Ellensburg | June, 20, 2019 | by Bruce Coe,
The following is part of a series of County Sentinel interviews with the people who will be shaping the future of Kittitas County.
Here is the first of a two-part article covering a recent interview with Cory Wright, Kittitas County Commissioner, District 1. The interview questions concentrate on the core philosophies of the Sentinel: Vision, Transparency and Accountability.
Cory Wright has held the position of Kittitas County Commissioner District 1 for 9 months now and has recently announced his candidacy for office in an election to confirm his appointment of last January. Wright replaced commissioner Paul Jewell as the representative for Kittitas County Commissioner, District 1. We sat down to chat with Commissioner Wright about his experiences as a new commissioner, the issues he is interested in, and his vision for Kittitas County
Wright starts off by offering this, “Government ain’t business!” He continues, “That’s probably the biggest thing. I’ve certainly brought a lot of the things I have learned in business to my position as commissioner. But I’ve had to learn that every decision I come to has to be agreed to by at least one other person. You can’t just have a conversation with people and then make a decision. There’s always more to it than just the merits of the decision.”
He continues by observing that the public process was a little intimidating to him at the start. He agrees with the concept, but it was foreign to the processes he had become used to in the private sector. What were the business principles he has been able to bring to the county?
“Within the internal management processes themselves, the concept of setting expectations and delivering a product that you and a customer agree on. In this case it means setting a level of service that the people want and figuring out a way to deliver those services with the staff and the budget you have.
“There is a lot of frustration internally at the county with overlap of responsibilities and I don’t think the county does a great job of documenting processes, procedures and expectations. I remember looking at a long set of management principles hanging on the wall and thinking, ‘this is silly’. How is someone supposed to look at this and figure out if they are doing their job, and doing it correctly?”
So the County’s management team started off with the basics – determining core values and working up from there. His goal in his term is to get those solidly in place so whoever succeeds him in the future does not have to worry about it.
Within the structure of the Board of County commissioners different responsibilities are assigned at the start of the year, and Wright handles the internal services portion of those areas. He wants to get the level of services smooth and running efficiently. Figuring out who is responsible for directing different departments had become an issue, with department heads not really understanding who they were responsible to for their actions.
“These are things in the business word that save money and time and additionally, retain employees. I spent three years in my past job in quality management and it seems so basic to me. We’re heading for a predictable process with no ambiguity so the customer, in this case the citizens, get what they expect.”
He says that right now, more than anything, they are at a point where the different departments are figuring out where they are in their internal relationships. As a process, it is a strong beginning. “We have to show people that we are committed, and they figure out pretty quickly whether or not you are committed to that change.”
Wright says that the commissioners rely heavily on the Comprehensive Plan for their responses to land use and planning issues. His biggest issue is how to get more use out of the land base that comprises Kittitas County. He says that the county has to go back to some of the agreements they have made in the past and modernize the land uses within these agreements. He admits that there is not much land left to work with since the county only retains about 14% of its land base for varying uses, the rest being locked into agriculture, commercial forest or public ownership.
The issue of rural lands, a Growth Management Act designation that is supposed to retain the ‘rural character’ of private land, is important to him. “How do we get creative about those remaining lands and their uses? How do we work with our Rural Lands? Our comp plan drives a lot of our reactions to those issues, and there is a question about how we will satisfy the demands for housing growth and economic development within these areas.”
He concedes that the Growth Management Act needs a “whole lot of tweaking”, and sees that as both a State and County issue. But he also sees areas of cooperation that both entities can agree to work within.
To be continued …