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.