Saturday, May 25, 2013

Retreat From Scrutiny

The online version of the Merriam Webster dictionary defines a retreat as:
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."
I don't know what the Council hopes to achieve at retreats, but it is apparent that many County staff see it as a golden opportunity to co-opt Council members to their way of thinking. Staff lay out their plans about communication, professionalism, and coordination (i.e.,  not blind-siding one another) in an effort to convince Council members that they have joined a club with a strict code of behavior that they dare not violate. It's "Management by Shiny Object." If some newly elected official starts to focus on something real, staff are ready to shift the topic to professionalism, civility, coordination, or some other item selected from the time-tested shiny-object menu of distractions.  Above all, staff try to make the Council believe that they can save -- only by working closely in concert with highly-professional County staff -- this County from its own citizens. For example, "they" need to provide us with an economy planned by Shireene Hale, the Tourist Board, and various County committees. It's vital, they tell us, despite the fact that many of these same people have done everything they can to kill our economy with pointless regulation.

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.


  1. These retreats are complete BS. They hold a meeting a few blocks from where they usually hold a meeting and call it a retreat. As TH says, the only thing they are retreating from is the recording equipment at the county.

    Knock off the bullshit. Hold meetings in your usual place unless you're on another island. Bring in your department heads and read them the riot act. Heck, ask each for their resignation. Start with John Manning. That man is way off base for believing that criticizing staff reflects poorly on the council.

  2. With apologies to Leonard Cohen ...

    I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
    I love these Islands but right now can't stand this scene.

    And I'm neither left or right
    I'm just staying home tonight,
    getting lost in that hopeless little screen.

    But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
    that Time cannot decay,

    I'm junk but I'm still holding up
    this little wild bouquet:

    Democracy is coming to the Islands, today.

  3. Good old Bob Jean, just remember itll never be the same, you are no longer a member of the public, we have to stick together,, Right! Sick Socialist

  4. Interesting to see John Manning's name show up with some regurgitated bueracratic wisdom. Anyone remember his testimony to the council during one of the annual budget "crisis" discussions. Had to be 08 or 09. This old glue horse literally told the council if they cut his budget at all "people will die".
    Another grant funded bloated department.
    This council needs to have a serious discussion on getting expenses down from 50 million to about 35 million in their tenure. Not looking for new "revenue streams".

  5. Manning and his significant other and household partner Pamela Morais each got $10k raises last year. Oh sorry, they weren't "raises," they were "salary adjustments" based on a comparison that Morais performed that looked at how San Juan county salaries compared to a bucket of other counties including King county.

    As has been pointed out repeatedly, the average prevailing wage in San Juan county is near the bottom for the state while King county is at the top. Yet that is how we have decided to compensate our senior county nincompoops. We pay them some of the highest wages in the state despite being a very low wage county.

    We suck. We absolutely suck. Thank you to all the council members who caused this to happen. What great leaders you have been. Remember, you're all in this together.

  6. Very few, don't include me, have seen this "retreats" for what Pete Rose invented. A way to get out of the public purview.

    Most past Council Members liked em. Largely, I think because every member got to do a touchy feely to see where other council members stood.

    This was very bad. This was a large reason the County got into so many poor decisions.

    The way it should work is everyone comes to a meeting prepared. They have done their homework. The public gives their input. There is Council discussion, and for the first time each member sees where the decision might go. At that point each member makes the strongest case they can to convince others for their vote. (NOT at some F...... retreat!)

    The other thing I absolutely deplore is another Pete Rose invention. The "three touch" nonsense.

    Come prepared, ready to vote. Three touch is an excuse to not come prepared. It is an excuse to not come prepared to vote. The result is delay and delay in decision making, loss of public patience and stamina. (Just what shitty politicians love)

    "Retreats" are not just a f....... joke, they are very bad public policy and a a very close relative of back room dealing.

    No more, please.

  7. Brian EhrmantrautMay 25, 2013 at 9:55 PM

    I don't see "the three touch rule" in the Charter anywhere, yet it is treated as gospel. I agree with 9:37PM that it is a very poor management practice, and think that it should be exterminated ASAP.

    Seems a simple enough change for the Council to make, eh?

  8. In the movie "Barcelona" from the 1990s, one of the main protagonists is a salesman played by Taylor Nichols. He is devoted to the art of sales, reading and listening to tapes on the art of salesmanship.

    One of the tips from one of the cassettes that he listens to advises that he place a "red dot" on every piece of paper that he handles. If he handles the same piece of paper three times (three dots), then he should take action and do something so as not to keep dealing with the same piece of paper any more.

    If you google "red dots touches paper" you will get some hits for this old sales axiom from the pre-paperless office days.

    I always felt that Pete Rose's "three touch rule" was inspired by the cassette in the movie Barcelona or some other cheesy sales tape. Ironically, the three dot-touch rule was meant in that movie as a productivity suggestion, but in typical San Juan County fashion, it has been used in the opposite way here.

    It's an outdated hold-over from a bygone era, but it survives here as Pete Rose legacy residue.

  9. Someone or group of civic and business leaders should go have lunch with the incoming county manager before his first day on the job, and explain how things work, what is expected and how he will be monitored.

    Indeed, as John Manning says, we are all in this together. We need to make clear that if we are to make positive changes to the organizational culture of the county, we expect deference to the public interest, not some hold-over relict of the ancien regime counting days to retirement.

    Power past John Manning and his Friends.

  10. The only reason the county wants Pictometry is to increase revenue thru fines, fees, enforcement and taxes. With the cost of Pictometry, county staff time, new hi-def monitors, training, etc. I don't see how it can even break even on the investment. All it doe's is create another layer. While we are trying get by they get paid to play with the new toys we bought them. And they didn't even say thank you and think we are being mean to them.

  11. Why doe's the county feel the need to be disingenuous with us? I mean what is really to gain besides their jobs, they keep doing this shit because they are scared? Maybe they are unaware that they could do a good, fair job for all, still get paid, stop lying to themselves and sleep better at night

  12. It's interesting, or maybe more like disturbing, that the county has taken this stance, that they can't seem to let go of, that it's us against them. They obviously know they are doing something shady why else would they always try to conceal their activities. We can't conceal our private activities but they cringe and complain at any scrutiny of their public activities.

  13. More like a retreat from reality.

  14. let's just call this thing by its true name: Toxic Workplace Environment.

    San Juan County government is a toxic workplace. Because the county is the single largest employer, that toxicity permeates everywhere, touches many families, reaches most private contractors, every member of every advisory committee, every nonprofit or community organization that helps deliver county services to the public.

    The tone is set at the top. We have a fleeting opportunity to begin the long process to shift organizational culture. Bob Jarman is the best person to take the lead given his background. He deserves the public's full support.

    There's a big body of literature out there on this issue. We have to cut budgets pretty dramatically. We are going to have to make some changes and the culture will have to shift. There will be some folks who won't like that one bit.

    Check out this quiz ... the categories of questions deal with Unfairness, Abusive bosses and poisonous coworkers; Physical danger; Just plain annoying

    This is much more than about budgets and inefficiencies, and given the fact the county is the largest employer we have to be really clear about the negative impact this toxicity is having on our communities and rural character.

  15. In this county, three touch rule is only thing which guarantees anyone will be afforded reasonable opportunity for public comment.

  16. Understand the three-touch rule is intended to promote deliberation, increase public awareness and opportunity for participation.

    Does it? The Pictometry deal is a good example. Did the 3 touch rule matter?

    Three minute open public comment is not effective either, so should we eliminate it? (Legally, probably could not).

    What would happen if the 3 touch rule were eliminated or changed to a better process to achieve the same purpose?

    If the 3 touch rule really is the only way in this county to ensure reasonable opportunity for public comment God help us. But perhaps it is.

  17. Three touch = stalling. We are going to have a big meeting about whatever, people show up. Now we are going to have another meeting about the same thing, less people show up. Now we are going to have another meeting, some people show up. But all the people from the county and nonprofits who have been to every meeting and get paid to attend show up. Let us vote, maybe a straw vote to warm up and intimidate dissenters. What has the county staff and council been doing in the weeks prior to the meeting? That's their job, prep for meeting and then nothing happens? I am getting worn down, congratulations San Juan County, your plan is taking a toll. How many county employees are embarrassed to admit they work for the county, they know. They need the money, which I can understand, but the mindless busywork is mind numbing. They long to be productive and wish their leaders to guide them to the benefit of all.

  18. If senator kev ranker was Jesus there would have been no resurrection. So Dad, like what's in this for me?

  19. @ 9:21 PM

    Thanks, that's making sense. It's like what that great leftie linguist Noam Chomsky used to describe as "manufacturing consent." The three step process is what you do to establish the predetermined outcome as an inevitability in the public mind.

    It's just a propaganda tool. I agree, do away with it now.

  20. Easy and effective solution going forward:

    1) Eliminate the three touch rule

    2) Implement procedures for policy resolutions that get full open robust debate.

    Set the tone at the beginning of what the council desires, what problem needs solving, and what positions the individual council critters are likely to take.

  21. By having issues addressed in the record multiple times prior to a decision being taken, it can be determined what level of dissent exists. Without the delay, the Council can make snap judgements, ram through a predetermined agenda and claim to be "gobsmacked" when they get complaints.
    The Pictometry debacle represents a total failure by the Council to retake the reins from an administrator who colluded with special interests and staff.

  22. I would say we, not Stan Matthews, got "gobsmacked".

  23. TH needs a mobile app for smartphone users. Just a blog? It's so 2011.
    I'll donate to the TH fund if a link shows up.
    Should have a t shirt design contest. Something tasteful and subtle.
    Booth at the fair with black cutouts labeled anonymous. And a pencil throwing game as an attraction.

  24. A Trojan Heron booth at the fair is a marvelous idea. Manned by ... Anoymous ... ROFL ... Booth volunteers can wear tastefully designed bags over their heads.

    A pencil throwing game is spot on. The one who shrieks the loudest wins.

    And yeah, blogs are so 2011. Time for an upgrade. Do it right, fund it and build it. They will come. There's a lot of eyeballs on this. More people participating every week.

    Its easy to see why the Machine is so shrill in insisting otherwise.

  25. I think we are getting something done here.

    I hoped for, but never expected others to be concerned over the three touch, a brick wall to decision making.

    Thanks to Brian Ehrmantraut, a person who has been there and is there, for his experienced take on this.

    Seems the three touch BS should get the door, but so sorry there is at least one more, and this one I completely despise!

    Time setting for speakers! What crap is this?

    I was behind the dais as chair for most of 11 years and never once, sometimes with 300 people in the room, (we moved big turnouts to a gym) did we have a time limit. And, yes, sometimes we finished at 2am.

    In these large meeting we did take speaker cards, but the public spoke their concern, without hurry and without the complete lack of attention of by council members staring into laptops.

    The public speaks, the laptops get closed!

    Life for a public official is hell at times, but if you are direct and truly listen, you can sleep pretty good. (After, you get home.)

  26. Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.

    - Alexander Hamilton

  27. Is there a recording of this love-in? When are Council going to stop being led around by the nose by staff? Perhaps it's time to have elections for major department head positions, if Council won't take charge.

  28. Who knows how to get an initiative or referendum started?

    What's the deadline for the primary and general elections this year?

  29. Let me get this straight. John Manning, the health services director, is married to the human resources director, who is in charge of evaluating his performance and salary? Is that why he and she were the ones who got raises in the big dustup last year? And Shireene Hale is married to Ed Hale, and they write grants that provide them all sorts of work to do as they please? And the Hales and the Mannings spend lots of time socializing on their boats?

    And I thought this group was incestuous BEFORE.

    What do we do about this? Who reviews the Hales and Mannings performance? Morias has a clear conflict, it seems. So does Council do this in executive session? If so, who prepares the documents and recommendations given to them for the review? No wonder no one in the "in" crowd ever gets fired, despite their outrageous behavior.

  30. Wait, is Bob Jean married to Sharon Kivisto? Because all we ever hear from her is how we should surrender to the superior intellect and professionalism of the County "staff."

    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.

  31. How much time and money does the county staff spend on their own PR? I guess its #1 on their list of priorities because they sure screw up everything else. As I have said before, they are afraid of losing their jobs, and rightly so because the lid is coming loose. More and more people are becoming aware of what a cluster freak is going down. See if you can make sense of Stan's 'Rumor Control" at The main issue at the moment according to senator ranker, the county and the local main stream rags. Is letting visitors know we still exist! and YES you can still get here with only a few minute diversion! Now that we are a national monument the people should have access, even though there is no money to tour the White House and many other places.

  32. To my Trojan Heron friends:
    I don’t get it. What are you trying to accomplish?
    Lots of seriously negative comments don’t have any support – and all but one are anonymous so I don’t know if I’m responding to one or two people or 29, with the exception of Brian.
    TH asks, “Why does the County feel the need to be disingenuous with us?” There follow definitions of “retreat” that are wholly accusatory. There are other reasons why professionals hold retreats other than to hide and escape scrutiny – recharging batteries, renewal, and meditation are listed in the dictionary.
    Was the public shut out of the retreat? No they were not. The retreat was advertised and open to the public.
    Have any of you not had retreats in your professional lives? I had dozens of them and there was nothing insidious going on. They were times of regaining energy, planning new directions, etc.
    We have a new council. Two of the three legislators are new, having only served a few months. Don’t they get the benefit of any doubts?
    I think this post is unfair and begs for mean-spirited reactions, which TH certainly got: Readers say:
    “complete BS”
    Bob Jean is an “old glue horse.”
    “We suck. We absolutely suck.”
    The retreat was referred to as a joke and bad public policy.
    I read once again that there were $10,000 raises for Morais and Manning.
    I looked into this and found that the reclassification was undertaken at the urging of the union, that nobody got $10,000 raises, that Pamela Morais refused a salary increase in spite of data that show she was dramatically undercompensated. She did not direct the study
    Trojan Heron readers are sounding like victims. We are not.

  33. Thank you Janice, now I feel bad for thinking out loud. Unlike you I have not been to dozens of retreats that are paid for by others or that I can deduct from my taxes. A chance to recharge my batteries, renewal and meditation, that sounds like a vacation to me. If they want to relax ,that's okay, but why would one have to go to a hotel when you live here. In a pristine place, national monument and so on. Why can't they meet in one of the many parks, on a ferry boat. Then there is the team meeting that the lunatic fringe were concerned about. And the negative comment thing, so what is the good news?

  34. Dramatically undercompensated. I know how that feels. That's why ranker has been freelancing. Dang, this negative thinking thing is hard to shake. Perhaps the county should send us negative thinkers on a retreat for an attitude adjustment. We need our minds flushed of all that bad juju that we thought was going on.

  35. Janice you are wasting your time, what started as an excellent idea by ECK to expose the envirozealots and their undue influence and hypocracy has turned into a rather boring pulpit where the same 4 to 6 angry ranters spew forth unsubstantiated accusations and paranoid delusions of conspiracy.
    The ranters will religate the TH to insignificance as those who are fair minded and not prone to tolerate fringe politics will drift away.

  36. Maybe in a few years we'll get to the point where Pictometry will hover a little drone over a Council retreat so they can meet in public session anywhere they want to and we can all watch in IMAX 3D.

    This "retreat" really was not the right menu to review strategic priorities and schedules. That is not about recharging batteries. That part it fine. Go announce a public meeting because its a quorum, grab a six pack or two and get better acquainted. But don't go off and plan strategic goals ... Sheesh. Is nothing getting through yet?

  37. @ 5:41

    Disagree completely. All the commentary and articles are available back to day one.

    A simple review of the archive will quickly demonstration that you are not only out to lunch but just hacking up the cheesy tactics you tried to use a year ago to marginalize, demonize, trivialize.

    It will be really interesting to see what starts to happen as the venting winds down ... there are plenty of solid ideas getting traction here. The on-going Punch and Judy Show is fine entertainment, but the ranters don't matter much.

    At least you are up to allowing perhaps 4-5 folks here, that's better than the 1-2 from a few weeks ago.

    I guess you would be one of them?

  38. Someone in the County is dramatically undercompensated? Show me the data. As for the blog losing readers due to commenters, why is the same commenter still here predicting that the blog will lose readers?

    The Heron is the POST. You can't control commenters. You can only respond to the POST. Is it wrong in any detail?

    The agenda for the Council's "retreat" was not a "retreat" agenda: it was an indoctrination in the world as staff sees it. The policy issues being discussed were fundamental. And yes the meeting was open to the public. The public who can take the day off and maybe a roundtrip ferry ride can attend. I'm sure that hundreds showed up.