Nov. 24, 2009
Inaugural address of King County Executive Dow Constantine
“A Culture of Performance”
November 24, 2009Three weeks ago today the voters of King County made a clear and decisive statement.
The central theme of our campaign was that if we are willing to embrace new ideas and new approaches, we could bring reform to County government while staying true to our core values. The public in King County embraced that idea, and overwhelmingly supported our campaign. Today I am so proud, so deeply humbled, to be entrusted with this responsibility, this opportunity – and yes, this challenge.
Before I go on I want to thank my predecessor, Kurt Triplett, for his leadership in stepping up to one of the most difficult periods in our county's history. He has prepared the Green River Valley against flooding and prepared our health system against a possible pandemic. His insight, instincts and transparent approach have been invaluable to me as council chair and during this transitional period and I offer Kurt my deep thanks and best wishes.
I don’t need to tell you that these are challenging times… for families, for businesses, for institutions throughout King County, our state, and our nation.
We are all re-learning to do more, with less, to stretch every dollar, to make sacrifices, to work harder to protect our quality of life and to position ourselves for the brighter days ahead.
When my grandfather and his brother played on the legendary Huskies teams of the 1920s, this region was a smaller, simpler place. Folks mostly made their living from the region’s still-abundant natural resources. When I was a kid growing up in West Seattle, the son of schoolteachers, it seemed like every third house was the home of a Boeing worker and their family. Manufacturing and invention had become our economic bedrock. Seattle was the Jet City. The roots of our high quality of life were easily visible.
Well, the world is more complicated now. And our region is more diverse, and more open to new opportunities. This county and this region have remained strong and taken on new challenges with confidence and a can-do attitude. As tough as times are today, I have no doubt that it is our diversity and our willingness to embrace innovation that has laid the foundation for our future prosperity.
But we have some building to do on that foundation, some reconstruction work. Old and sluggish institutions are in need of an update. The era of government by mere good intention is over.
Starting today, we will begin to build partnerships and a blueprint for reform that will lead to fundamental change in the way King County does business.
And we promised to preserve our quality of life in a way that is consistent with our values and is sustainable. Looking ahead over the next four years, it’s clear we have a lot of work to do to support a sustainable economy, protect our environment, and build our infrastructure:
- We must fulfill our promise to voters and expand light rail.
- We must promote and invest in clean energy jobs, green buildings, and redouble our efforts to compete for aerospace and other family wage jobs.
- We must protect our environment by connecting land use policies to transit development; fulfill our promise to clean up Puget Sound; and tackle climate change through coordinated regional action.
I want to thank the incredibly broad and talented group of leaders who met repeatedly over the past 3 weeks to help shape this agenda. Your work, and the voices you represent, will have a place in this administration, not just during this transition, but for my entire tenure in this office.
I want to thank my family: Shirley, my parents John and Lois, my brother Blair, the aunts, uncles and cousins gathered here; my colleagues past and present. I want to thank my remarkable army of campaign workers and volunteers and all of you here today. Your ideas, energy and passion got us through a long election season, so that we might now begin the real work.
This was, and is, a true team effort, and we’re all in it together.
Over the next 100 days, you can count on this administration to do two things:
- We will build the blueprint for real, sustainable reform of county government; and
- We will forge the innovative partnerships needed to address the critical issues immediately before us.
Our blueprint for reform will take shape under the umbrella of the countywide strategic plan that I helped institute as part of my focus on performance-based governance. This plan will enable us to develop a culture of performance that changes the way we do business at King County, that changes the way we serve people, and that changes the way we budget.
- Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett will lead our overall effort to create a culture of performance at King County.
- I have also appointed a Director of Customer Service as part of my senior management team to focus on improving customer service as a down payment on our longer-term performance and reform agenda.
Over the next 100 days we will also foster strong partnerships to address some of the issues immediately before us, and we will foster these ties to serve us throughout this administration.
For too long, King County government has talked too much, and not listened enough. We are going to change that.
My administration will represent all of King County: urban, suburban and rural. We will convene leaders from our 39 cities and our unincorporated areas to understand their needs and expectations, and how we as partners can make this a better region in which to live.
- In the urban and suburban areas, we will begin a needed process of re-prioritizing Metro Transit services—connecting people to the places they live and work throughout King County. We must put an end to wasteful allocation based on historical accident and artificial political boundaries. We will engage with regional leaders on a process for allocating Metro Transit services to best support regional prosperity and economic development.
- In the rural areas, we will look to protect and expand successful programs that safeguard working farms in rural King County, farms that provide local, healthy food to schools and farmers' markets.My administration will also build partnerships with County leaders and our employees. The County’s budget will lurch from one crisis to the next unless and until we acknowledge the need to close the structural gap between our revenues and expenses.
- I will bring together the County Council and the County’s separately elected officials, for a frank, overdue conversation about costs, services, and sources of revenue. We need a plan, and we need to work together to make it happen.
- To achieve lasting reform, reduced cost, and improved customer service, our King County employees will be our best partners. You are the ones on the front line. You are the ones with the experience, the insights, the innovations. We know that you know how to make things work better. As a first step in engaging employees in a culture of continuous improvement, in the first 100 days we will convene a formal clearinghouse for employee-led reform ideas and create incentives for innovation. We will also establish a competition for proposals for the Executive to “walk a day in the shoes of a County employee,” and once a quarter I will do so.
We promised to lead by example, and we will. If we are going to succeed in changing the culture at King County, we must begin at the top:
- We are going to find ways to bring down the costs of government so we can redirect resources to front-line services.
- We not only cut 15 percent of our executive office staffing levels, my staff is also taking salary cuts below previous levels – myself included.
The world around us is changing—and King County will change as well. We are looking to build a King County government that is more user-friendly, transparent, efficient and effective.
This is a tall order. We will need all hands on deck to succeed.
One of our most famous local residents, a fellow by the name of Gates, said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”
To prepare for the profound changes that are on the horizon, we must lay the groundwork today. That’s both our short-term agenda and our long term plan.
Another famous Seattleite, a fellow by the name of Hendrix, once said, “In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first.”
We’ve pulled together a great team at the head of County government to make the changes needed that will help our families, our cities and rural areas, and our region succeed.
We will set priorities, build partnerships, and make real progress. We’ll do it by working together, by listening to each other, and driving solutions that are thoughtful and lasting. We will be ambitious, but level-headed. We will be unafraid to stand up for what is right, and pragmatic about minimizing the disruptions that change brings.
We will do these things, make this progress, by harnessing the innovation and spirit that built this region; and we will do them in a way that reflects our shared values of equality, fairness, and respect for individual rights and freedoms; of stewardship, sacrifice, and service.
This belief that we can do it—and do it right—is why we’re here today.
I want to thank the people of King County for their vote of confidence. I want to thank you all so much for your support. I wouldn’t be here without you, and I will continue to rely on you in the years to come.