Tony Wright to leave the Puget Sound Partnership

In a letter to his partners, Tony Wright, the Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership, announced his resignation and intent to leave in the near future. He is staying until a new ED is found.

This is quite shocking news. Mr. Wright only took the helm of the Partnership last summer, after the resignation of Gerry O”Keefe, who himself had not been in the ED role for very long.

In meeting with members of the Marine Resource Committees at their annual conference last winter, Mr. Wright was all a bundle of fire, an excellent motivational speaker. He left the distinct taste that this was a man who was going to get things done. About the only thing he appears to have done, is reorganized the Partnership.

It is easy to assume that this is very bad news for the Partnership, and that Governor Inslee has been behind this latest change.  Mr. Wright had the experience and background to help coordinate big, government based projects, having come from the Army Corp of Engineers. –UPDATE AS OF 1/21/2013- In a letter to “Partners” which is published elsewhere on this blog, it’s made clear to the public that Tony’s short term nature was known all along to the insiders, and that, in order to not seem like a lame duck from day one, he kept it closely guarded. While it is understandable, it doesn’t stop those of us looking for direction and guidance from the Partnership wanting to see some longer term stability than 6 months. It’s still unexplained as to why a change needed to happen to bring in Tony in the first place, as it was not made clear as to why Gerry had to leave. Couldn’t he have been kept on six more months? To those on the outside looking in, it just seems like churn. 

It gives some possible clarity as to  why Billie Frank Jr. in an interview in the Seattle Times on January 17th, was quoted as saying, “

“The state of Washington, all they know is process,” Frank said. “It’s ‘we gotta have a blue-ribbon panel, another meeting.’ You get processed out. God almighty, you never see anything coming back. What the hell?

“The directors retire and move away to Arizona and Florida and play golf, and they haven’t done a … thing for the natural resources.”

UPDATE AS OF 1/21/2013 – While I have no idea if Billie was referring to Tony’s leaving, the timing of the article and statement seemed very suspect. It hits awfully close to the issue at hand. 

As to Mr. Wright’s saying that he is ‘returning to his company”.  A standard procedure of exiting EDs is to jump to a consultancy, until the next major opportunity comes along.

UPDATE AS OF 1/21/2013 – Apparently this may have been misinterpreted by some readers. This was not meant as anything more than an explanation that this kind of behavior is very normal. I would not be surprised if Tony is in another ED role (or higher as Obama has a lot of roles to fill in the environmental world) by the end of the year. 

We wish Mr. Wright well, but can’t help but wonder whether the Partnership is as “on the right path” as Mr. Wright claims. David Dicks got the Partnership up and running quickly, but left under a cloud. Gerry O’Keefe had just seemed to get his feet under him when he left, with no real explanation from the Governor. Now Mr. Wright exits. Having been in a large bureaucratic for profit company for many years, this kind of reorganization and executive churn  is rarely good for staff morale.  It often leads to even less getting done than usual.

UPDATE AS OF 1/21/2013 – Some readers seem to have taken issue with this statement. Bureaucracies by their nature are slow moving. Nothing exceptional about the PSP in that regard.  While the staff of any agency can get along and keep moving it forward without an Executive,  the lack of leadership at the top often stifles new initiatives, and decision-making.  New leadership that comes in takes time to figure out the organization and it’s issues, as well as it’s external partners and customers.  Often that takes 6 to 12 months to happen. Re-organizing isn’t an end in itself, but a means to one.  I’ve seen bureaucracies that do it sometimes twice a year, with little to show for the effort, which takes time away from staff doing the work that makes a difference. We hope that the next leader of the PSP will be as dynamic and able to launch new efforts as Tony was. 

And so, we, who are out in the watersheds doing the work, whether educational, protecting habitat, helping write rules for the counties, enforcing those rules, or otherwise ‘getting dirty’ and sometimes volunteering hundreds of hours a year  without pay, will continue to do that, as we have been, while the Partnership leadership comes and goes, and has to relearn who we are and what we are doing. We hope that the Partnership, under Governor Inslee, finally gets itself on a firm footing, and pitches in, in a larger way, to help.

6 Responses

  1. To our partners on the Peninsula:
    We are all very sorry that Col. Wright isn’t able to remain in the crucial position of Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership because, as was said, his tenure brought heft and passion and vision to this enormous effort. What was not said and may not be widely known is that he came out of the private sector at the request of Governor Gregoire whom he greatly admires and promised to stay with her through her term.
    On the other end of that pledge, he promised his business partner and war comrade that he would be back at his firm by winter, and here we are. He has helped reenergize the effort with great skill and vitality. Puget Sound recovery has long been his passion. What he perhaps did not count on is that the job of ED would become a formidable vehicle for the pursuit of same. And so here we are in an imperfect place – he is very torn, but he has an obligation, is loyal, and will be true to his word. It is his intent to stay a couple of months into Gov. Inslee’s term to enable a smooth transition, especially during the legislative session.
    The job of ED at the Partnership is an enormously important one and of course the churn of ED traffic is at best distracting to the public and the remarkable staff. But make no mistake, there is more to the PSP than the Director. The 40+ staff members continue to carry out the serious central core work of our mission with great technical savvy and passionate inspiration and will continue to do so regardless of Gubernatorial transitions or appointments. And as we all recognize, this work does not have an end date – it will require all of us, out generations, with many more ED’s, to work vigilantly together.
    So we invite the region, our Partners, to help Gov. Inslee fill this important post and to join us as we continue to work on what can only be called the great privilege of safe guarding this remarkable place on earth we are lucky enough to call home.
    Martha Kongsgaard
    Chair, Leadership Council
    Puget Sound Partnership

    • Ms. Kongsgaard: Thank you for taking the time to clarify the situation. We wish your team and the Governor luck in quickly finding a suitable replacement for Mr. Wright. His energy and passion was a breath of fresh air, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Partnership in the years to come.

  2. It’s time soon for Alan Mulally to come back, pick up the reins of this “Fix Puget Sound” buggy and “get ‘er done.” He has the proper combination of know how and guilt. Maybe we could start making signs and posters!

  3. “There is just cause in questioning what it means that an agency like the PSP … then, there’s the question that Mr. Inslee was elected with great support from the environmental community. Why does he have nothing to say about this? ”

    I think asking questions, or even posing them publicly is great. Really great! We need more of that, especially in these areas which (unlike football and celebrity scandals) don’t get much attention. I just don’t understand why you would want to say something like “It is easy to assume that … Governor Inslee has been behind this latest change” instead of asking a question.

    Or why say, “I would have to imagine that the morale at the Partnership offices can’t get much lower at this point” instead of reporting what you overheard over drinks in a bar or in a closed door meeting. Or instead simply asking, “I wonder what that is doing to the morale at the Partnership offices?”

    I’m not a journalist, nor do I play one on TV*, so I don’t understand the subtleties of what’s going on here.

    *well, maybe I do play one on tv, since I appeared in the TV series I produced about our Northwest Waters ( And does producing documentary movies make me a journalist? I don’t know, maybe I should retract my disclaimer 🙂 In any event, as near as I can tell my work has been nowhere near as popular as yours, so there’s probably something for me to learn here.

  4. John, thanks for your comments. One of the realities of a blog for journalism is that I am not a full time reporter, nor do I have reporters working for me. My ability to regurgitate the news is limited by copyright, so it’s more functional and valuable for me (and I would bet my readers) to bring my opinion on these issues to bear. Everyone will know within a day or two that Tony is out. That’s the “who, what, when, where, how” of journalism. The real question asked by everyone when something like this happens, is “Why?” What’s the back story here? Since I am deeply involved in volunteer work on the Partnership’s behalf, as well as on other environmental process based organizations, I think that my value to readers is in my ability to ask the questions that should be asked. It’s not to raise the hackles of readers, it’s to ask the questions that I hear get asked, over drinks at a bar, or in a closed door meeting. People hear things that are not “news” but ‘opinion’. There is just cause in questioning what it means that an agency like the PSP, created with a goal of ‘cleaning up the Sound” by 2020, (a very positive goal!), would be unable to hold an ED for longer than a year. I don’t assume that Mr. Wright’s leaving is ‘bad’ for the agency, but it will be easy for anyone that has worked for or supported the efforts of the agency to think that. I talked to a couple of people who might have known more today. They are as shocked as I am over this. And then, there’s the question that Mr. Inslee was elected with great support from the environmental community. Why does he have nothing to say about this? These are questions that we are asking. Right this minute. There are no public answers.

    A news release like the one done today by Mr. Wright is written to not be controversial. I have written them myself. I understand that. The next question is, “Tony, Why?” Given that he’s unlikely to answer that anytime soon, all we are left with is the qualifiers you mention.

    I appreciate your thoughts, and will work to better integrate opinion and facts. Thanks very much for reading the “News”

  5. I really thank you for all of the attention you’ve been calling to the issues you publicize in your Oly Pen Environmental news. Many of those things wouldn’t get much attention otherwise. But this article seems to be 10% news and 90% editorial.

    “It is easy to assume”, “can’t help but wonder”, “I would have to imagine” — is all that speculative rhetoric really helpful?

    Prefacing all those statements with “It is easy to assume”, “can’t help but wonder”, “I would have to imagine” and similar qualifiers seems to be all the rage in journalism these days. Sure it can get hackles up and attract viewers. But doesn’t it mean that you are just saying stuff without having much in the way of relevant facts?

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