Governor’s Surprise Pick For New Head of Puget Sound Partnership

From Martha Kongsgaard, the Leadership Chair of the Partnership. This announcement was totally unexpected, and it remains to be seen as to the reasons why. But on it’s surface, putting an ex-Army Corp of Engineers person at the head of the cleanup efforts, at least to this reporter, seems an odd choice and odd timing. Gerry O’Keefe had only recently become the Director, so we assumed he would be in until after the election.

This kind of appointment could have the tendency to de-focus the Partnership on the smaller organizations that actually get the huge bulk of work done at low cost, like Streamkeepers, HCCC, NOSC and others, in favor of big ticket projects that generate much larger jobs. While these big projects are important also, we continue to see the NGOs struggle for funds while the Partnership gets large funding for their offices and centralized marketing efforts, that to date, have had marginal success.

It is unfortunate, because with Gerry O’Keefe in control, we had finally started to see HQ staff leadership,rather than representatives, show up at regional events like the NW Straits Commission, which rarely happened under David Dicks. The Partnership is not so big a bureaucracy that they can’t actually plan ahead and show up for these critical localized planning events. We hope that Col. Wright will get out of the office a lot, as Gerry seemed to be doing. It really helps to get the leadership into the trenches. They often seemed quite isolated as to what we on the ground are actually doing.

To be clear, Col. Wright has a reputation as outspoken, and as someone who gets things done, but the Corp are not the first group you think about when you consider saving Puget Sound. We wish Col. Wright well, and hope that he grows in this job into thinking bigger than just engineering projects that the Corp have worked on.

If we find more information about why this change happened, we will keep readers informed.

    Here’s the announcement:

Puget Sound Partnership friends,

I am writing to let you know that Gov. Chris Gregoire today appointed retired Army Corps of Engineers Col. Anthony Wright to lead the Puget Sound Partnership. Wright is currently a vice president at Normandeau Associates, a consulting firm specializing in environmental issues, and will be taking a leave of absence to serve as director of PSP. Those of us who have been laboring in the field of Puget Sound restoration certainly recognize Tony, in his role as the district engineer and commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District, as an outspoken advocate and a practical but visionary leader around issues pertaining to the recovery of this national treasure. At the Corps. while overseeing 1000 employees and an annual budget of over $650M, he served as a vocal and active member of the Ecosystem Coordination Board and the Puget Sound Federal Caucus. His 25 years of engineering, management, and regulatory experience throughout the United States and abroad coupled with his long standing passion for Puget Sound make him an obvious choice for director during the implementation phase of our region’s recovery plan.

As he joins us at the helm, we say good bye to Gerry O’Keefe who came aboard as the deputy director of the Partnership in March of 2010 and who rose to director in February of last year. During his important tenure, Gerry brought a steady hand to the Partnership, especially internally, overseeing the development of the crucial performance management and accountability functions for the region’s recovery work. He has hired a full complement of expert internal managers making our operations run professionally and a group of the region’s best-in-class environmental specialists whose work in the field brings capacity to jurisdictions and governments as they link to a single agreed upon plan for recovery, the Action Agenda. The team assembled under his leadership works with expertise, deep passion, and to acknowledged great effect. He also aggressively led the region in a process to reach a first of its kind agreement about what we mean by ‘a recovered Puget Sound’ and developed the methodology to measure our progress against it. Finally, Gerry has guided the complex public and scientific process of up-dating the Action Agenda, the road map to recovery, which is now, mid-summer, nearly complete. We wish him the very best. He will be missed.

With Gerry leaving and Col. Wright joining us, we take pause to consider how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. The signature work of this generation of Puget Sound inhabitants is to break with the traditional and widely accepted historical distinctions between people and the environment, markets and ecological health and to restore resilience to the ecosystem we all depend upon. This work will not be complete in our life time; not under the leadership of our current Puget Sound champion, Governor Gregoire, nor seven governors hence. This is a never-ending project, let us not kid ourselves.

Now, as into the future, it does or does not get done because of the Partnership’s very talented and dedicated staff, remarkable and devoted Boards, Panels and Scientists, and the legions of concerned and engaged citizen partners who ring this stunning estuary and who work for both the present and for those we will never know, but who are coming whether we plan for them and safeguard this place or not. We all deserve what Jane Jacobs called a durable prosperity, a resiliency that expresses equally our rights and responsibilities to each other in a world with a reduced carrying capacity. This announcement, although of great import in the moment and to the people involved, is a mere punctuation mark in the long horizon ahead of us. We need to get back at it today and everlastingly by keeping our eyes on the prize – the protection of this national treasure, what some call Cascadia or Salmon Nation or to paraphrase the author Tim Egan, any place that salmon can get to, or what Wm. Dietrich calls “a universe in a mountain cradle,” this geographers’ delight, Puget Sound, the Salish Sea – out at least seven generations.

Feel free to give me a call any time or e mail me with any concerns you have during this time. And thank you for the role you play in this effort. It will take all of us.


C H A I R, L E A D E R S H I P C O U N C I L P U G E T S O U N D P A R T N E R S H I P

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