An act or process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.The new Council held a retreat this past week at a local hotel. What happens at a County retreat? The practical effect of a Council retreat is to be out of view of the video recorder in the Council Chamber, which makes it much more difficult for the public to get an idea of the proceedings. Previous Councils have even tried to restrict press access.
Based on reports, here's a brief summary of what transpired at the retreat:
- Bob Jean feels the County needs to do a better job of communicating to the public what a great job County staff are doing. The County, he feels, needs to communicate the wonderful "professionalism" of staff.
- The County intends to hire a Communications Manager by August to assist with said "good communication." There was a lot of talk about the County being "behind the 8-ball" on communications.
- Shireene Hale is everywhere. She is the lead on the transportation element, the rural element, and the economic development element of the Comprehensive Plan ... and probably anything else she wants to work on.
- Stan Matthews received praise from Milene Henley and Bob Jean over the work he is doing as IT Manager. Despite the dust up over Pictometry, they said that he has saved the County a lot of money on IT.
- Councilman Hughes feels there is a need for a coordinating body for economic development. The Visitors Bureau is developing a "Tourism Master Plan" that will harmonize with the National Monument Plan (Wait, wasn't the purpose of the National Monument "protection" not tourism?). There was talk that the County needs to direct economic development planning and involve the Agricultural Resources Committee (ARC), the Economic Development Council (EDC) and others.
- Jarman asked a lot of questions about tracking contracts and change orders, and after much questioning it was revealed that a County information system called EDEN can generate weekly reports to the Council, and thus become part of the public record to monitor all ongoing contracted activities and change orders. In a discussion related to Pictometry, it was stated that the County Manager/Administrator's signing authorization would be limited to $100k without Council approval.
- Jarman wants a framed copy of the County Vision Preamble (part of the Comprehensive Plan) in every Department Head's office: WE THE PEOPLE of San Juan County recognize that these rural islands are an extraordinary treasure of natural beauty and abundance, and that independence, privacy and personal freedom are values prized by islanders. Being a diverse people bound together by these shared values, we declare our commitment to work towards this vision of the San Juan Islands in 2020 A.D.
- Jarman pushed for monthly reporting by Department Heads to the Council. He also pushed for the Council to sign off on all hires by Department Heads and more involvement related to terminations and staff evaluations.
- There was a discussion with Frank Mulcahy of Public Works about the possibility of developing a reporting dashboard to keep the Council better informed.
- Jean said the Community Conversations Draft Report will be available in a few weeks. Rumors are that some Council members and staff feel the Community Conversations were "transformational" and will serve as a good guide for County policy and goal setting for the budget process.
- At the end, John Manning of the Health Department delivered the "we're all in this together" message by saying, "Well, basically the best advice I can give incoming Council members is to remember, we're all in this together. And, if you're openly critical of staff in public session, remember, you're only hurting yourself."
This year, Jarman made efforts to get staff to listen to Council members rather than the other way around, but for the most part, this year's retreat was not much different from those in previous years. We heard many of the usual systemic themes that we've heard from staff before. As a friend of mine aptly puts it, our senior County staffers have "penis envy" of King County's programs, so despite the fact that we are country bumpkins with virtually no economic activity for a tax base, our County staff want programs (not to mention pay and benefits) à la King County ... and they don't want to be criticized for wanting it either.