Transparency and engagement: Welcome back to the exec’s office and SnoCo lexicon, ye long-neglected values.
As John Lovick settles into his first week as Snohomish County Executive, he’s already exhibiting an inclusive leadership style, a dramatic break from his predecessor. We hope it foreshadows an enterprising, get-things-done M.O.
As The Herald’s Scott North and Noah Haglund report, Lovick embraces the credo of “management by walking around.” It’s a term and style first applied in the 1980s by newly minted Gov. Booth Gardner. Departments have their own cultures, their own sense of dignity and (ideally) of mission. A county executive who listens is in their interest and the public interest.
“I spent yesterday doing what I told everybody I would do: walking around,” Lovick said. “I’m basically getting to know people, letting them know the door’s always open.”
On his Facebook page, County Councilman Dave Somers marveled: “Executive Lovick sat in on our County Council meeting this morning, just to listen to what was going on. Fantastic!” The new normal sounds, well, normal.
Lovick benefits from gravitas and a reputation for integrity. He’s also not the other guy, a unique windfall that ensures goodwill. To solidify and maintain that goodwill, Lovick will need to take some affirmative steps. As Rep. Rick Larsen told The Herald, “Selecting a new county executive is really just step one. The to-do list is long.”
Larsen’s list includes getting rid of the old Reardon crew, an awkward but necessary salve to invigorate confidence. Other measures include learning to work with the council, getting out and meeting county workers (check and check) and focusing on core essentials like the operating budget. The macro goal, re-establishing Snohomish County’s regional, political and economic leadership a la Bob Drewel, will require tenacity and patience.
Memories cloud over time. That’s why safeguards need to be institutionalized. For example, Snohomish County needs to disband its toothless ethics commission and establish an independent county Ombudsman to respond to and investigate citizen complaints.
King County offers a compelling template, an Ombudsman’s office voters created through the County Home Rule Charter of 1968. The mission is not only to investigate violations but also to publicize its findings and recommendations. The Ombudsman would have the power to subpoena witnesses as well as to administer oaths.
In 1986, 1996, and 2006, the County Charter Review Commission weighed the idea of an independent Ombudsman, but the brainstorm never went to the ballot. The new team should prioritize an Ombudsman’s office. It could be a vital, permanent legacy of the Lovick era.