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King County Executive
Dow Constantine

2012 State of the County address


A year ago we gathered in Kent, to celebrate the spirit of partnership that secured protection of the Green River Valley. I've come to Bellevue today to highlight the dynamism of the Eastside, and to underscore that we are truly a regional government, serving a people, culture and economy that, more than ever, transcend municipal boundaries.


2012 State of the County address
"Partnering for a Shared Prosperity"
Monday, February 6, 2012
Bellevue City Hall

Mr. Chair, councilmembers, elected officials, valued employees, and the people of King County.

And to the Bellevue City Council – thank you for inviting us into your chambers. Mayor Lee, I congratulate you on your selection as mayor. It is another milestone on our long journey, emblematic of the growing diversity of Bellevue, the Eastside, and all of King County.

Bringing this speech out of the courthouse and into the cities of King County is more than symbolic. It reflects our determination to bring government – at all levels – closer to the people we serve.

A year ago we gathered in Kent, to celebrate the spirit of partnership that secured protection of the Green River Valley. I've come to Bellevue today to highlight the dynamism of the Eastside, and to underscore that we are truly a regional government, serving a people, culture and economy that, more than ever, transcend municipal boundaries.

I am here because Bellevue – like so many employment centers – is proof that if we keep doing our jobs, then jobs will continue to come to King County.

We all know our King County is a great place to live. Nearly two million of us now. The 14th largest of the nation's 3,000+ counties. Bigger even than 14 states and the District of Columbia. A global center of commerce, research, philanthropy, culture. One of the most beautiful, diverse, and successful places in America.

And speaking of successful, no city in King County has reached skyward over the past decade like Bellevue. It's a skyline transformed by investments from powerhouses like Microsoft, bedrock institutions like Overlake Hospital and PACCAR, mixed-use developments like the Bravern, and public buildings like this beautiful City Hall.

Ours is a growing region, and within our reach is a unified, prosperous future. In the civic landscape, boundaries are starting to matter less, but the effectiveness of our public institutions in a changing and dynamic environment matters even more.

Since we're on the Eastside, let's talk in computer terms. If our region once reflected the rigidity of a slow-running mainframe, we are now graduating to the fluid and open access of the Cloud.

Jobs, mobility, a robust economy and a healthy environment are the priorities of a growing population and entrepreneurial class that knows no bounds, and this area is a regional epicenter of this important—and lasting—shift in civic life.

As we enter the third year of my administration, I want to take this opportunity to remind us all of where we have been, take note of a few recent accomplishments, and highlight some of the challenges in the immediate future.

The common thread running through much of our success is a spirit of partnership, in service of a shared prosperity – finding a way for people to work together, who perhaps didn't before.

  •  Together, we secured repair of the Howard Hanson Dam - and replacement of the South Park Bridge… something many said couldn't be done.
  • Together, we created a new regional approach to animal services that has increased foster care and adoption, and brought us closer to our goal of taking all healthy or treatable animals that comes into our care and finding them loving homes.
  •  We extended our regional jail contract, avoiding the cost and turmoil of building even more new jails;
  •  We called for an end to political arm wrestling over the allocation of new bus service, and agreed on a new approach based on productivity, and fairness, and data.
  •  And speaking of bus service, last summer the people turned out in record numbers to demand that we do the heavy lifting to keep 600,000 hours of bus service on the road, and this Council joined with me to do just that.

"Couldn't be done." That's what many said. But we got it done, through hard work and our willingness to work together for the benefit of the region.

The state of county government can be found in this simple fact: King County is back on sound financial footing.

Our credit outlook is stronger than that of the state and federal governments and most other local governments. We are doing things right, and those who study our work are taking notice.

Over the weekend I saw the movie Moneyball. If you haven't seen or read it, just bear with me. It's a true story about an underfunded baseball club that figured out how to compete by rejecting convention – and by innovating.

The county used to be a little like the New York Yankees. Its first response to a problem was to throw money at it. Now we're more like the 2002 Oakland A's depicted in Moneyball – smart and scrappy. Finding inefficiencies in the established system – seeking out the highest performance at the lowest-possible cost. Getting the best value.

Of course, the 2002 A's didn't win the World Series. But, happily for most of us Mariners fans, neither did the overpaid, overhyped Yankees.

We intend to win. By reexamining everything we do, by questioning the old, conventional ways of doing business and seeking the most efficient and effective ways to reach our goals, we can help put our region in a position to compete, and win, in a rapidly changing world.

That means getting the most value for each dollar and, to be fair, it also means having enough carefully invested dollars to get the job done.

So my job - our job - is to ensure that government works, and that it works for all the people – to support safe communities, accessible justice, a clean environment, the ability to get around, and a chance for everyone to thrive and succeed regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the zip code in which they live.

King County is not a business, but we can and should be business-like – knowing our customers, working to meet their needs.

It begins with our employees, who have risen to the challenge we set of finding new ways, even in tough times, to deliver for the people.

The recent ice storm once again showcased the commitment to public service of people like the bus operators who drove their coaches through the snow and ice,; the roads crews who worked 12-hours on, 12-off, for more than a week, to clear the snow, then the ice, and then the fallen trees; the public health staff who prevented carbon monoxide poisonings by raising the alarm, alerting the public to the hazard of burning barbecues inside homes, saving lives. And there were so many more.

A few of these thousands of workers have joined us here this morning. I ask them to stand and receive our thanks.

I said that the county is back on sound financial footing. That doesn't mean we are back to the level of revenues or services that we came to expect in the old days. We probably never will be. Potential cuts in state support for public health and human services, for example are largely outside of our control. But we are aggressively managing those things we can control.

Being on sound financial footing means we are no longer forced to drastically slash services, year after year, due to what we used to call the structural gap between our revenues and expenses.

Now we're getting savings – more value for each dollar –through efficiencies. Employee-driven efficiencies. We've partnered with our employees to deliver the same level of services each year at three percent less cost. And we're giving them the authority to make it happen.

Our primary tool in this effort is the practice of continuous improvement and employee engagement known in the business world as Lean.

  • License tabs renewed by mail used to take 3 weeks to process. Our employees figured out ways to take out unnecessary time and cost, and send the tabs back to drivers in less than five days.
  •  License renewals for taxi drivers took two months. Now it's less than 10 days. Why? Our employees figured out how to do business better.

These pilot projects have shown tremendous promise, so this year we will focus our efforts into a Continuous Improvement unit, to train leaders within each of our agencies to spread the Lean philosophy.

And we're being joined by countywide officials. Employees in the Elections Office are developing process improvements to prepare for the presidential elections. Staff in the Sheriff's Office are standardizing the deployment of deputies across the county, to save overtime and match resources to call loads.

Employees are excited to be part of the solution. With Lean they take ownership and more pride in their work.

Every so often, people at work stop me in the hall or in the elevator to tell me about an innovation in their workplace, some success in which they had a hand. More than a few have shared how pleased they are to hear people in the press and public often, now, speaking well of King County. They, like all of us, take pride in their work, and pride in the success we are creating together.

I want to again thank our employees, and our employee unions, for having the courage to partner, and to innovate.

When we entered this City Hall today we were greeted by the "Service First" desk. We're making "service first" the culture at King County too.

  •  Hundreds of supervisors and managers have received high-level training on what customers want and how to better deliver it.
  • Every department now has a single point of contact for customer service issues.
  •  We established a translation policy for access by the nearly one-fourth of our residents who speak a language other than English at home, and increased the number of our public documents provided in other languages.

You know, it wasn't that long ago that our permitting department was the most maligned of our agencies, the source of many complaints. Good people, struggling with old ways of doing business.

Upon taking office I brought in new management that introduced a fixed-fee model for cost certainty in permit applications; implemented same-day, drop-in, over-the-counter permits; and developed a smoother intake process.

And I'm pleased to let you know that customer service at our Department of Development and Environmental Services will take a dramatic leap forward this year.

  • We're moving our main office to the city of Snoqualmie, to bring services closer to the center of our customer base.
  • And at the heart of that new office will be a Customer Assistance Center to provide all of our drop-in services at one counter.
  • Online – customers will be able to apply for almost every type of permit, or get immediate approval for simpler permits, without ever having to drive to the office.

And that is just one department. The next big reform of the whole of county government is underway.

In the mid-1970s, when I was in junior high school, and John Spellman was serving as our first county executive, the county began installing what were then state of the art payroll and finance systems – the same systems we were still using until last month. 35 years or more – I think we got our money's worth.

And it has been 20 years since the voters mandated that the old Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle and the government of King County become one. And ever since that vote, the county has struggled with two separate payroll systems – one for King County and one for Metro – and two separate financial systems.

Some of these systems used COBOL computer code dating back to the 1960's. They could not talk to one another. And any kind of countywide management or budgeting had to be done by hand.

This is an example of the old purchase orders. They were produced on dot-matrix printers on 4-ply carbon copy sets. My younger staffers are amazed – some had never seen quadruplicate carbon sets before – like a rotary dial phone or an eight-track tape.

Fifteen years ago an attempt was made to merge these multiple systems. It failed, very publicly. About a year before I took office, the county began again. The stakes were even higher, but things were not going that well. On taking office, I decided to bring in a new technology team, and to hold them accountable.

Today, at the beginning of the year 2012, we are finally sweeping away the outmoded paper processes and redundant data entry of the past.

Today, I'm pleased to say that the Accountable Business Transformation project – ABT for short – has gone live, replacing 1970's business practices and 1960's computer code with 21st century efficiency – one, modern, efficient, business backbone.

With one click, managers and policymakers will finally have access to real-time information on payroll, budgets and procurement.

Other marriage issues have received more attention in the press this past month, but today, I am pleased to declare that the union of Metro and King County is finally complete, and we are truly One King County.

I want Caroline Whalen, her team, and the employees in all our departments who delivered this success to accept our thanks.

And Fred Jarrett, you will have to surrender your commemorative Metro paperweight from your stint on the old, unconstitutional Metro Council. Time to let go.

* * *

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have accomplished so much in just two short years. And yet there is so much more work to do. Even as we redouble our government reforms, this year we look ahead to new challenges: On transportation, transfer stations, juvenile justice, energy, climate change, and animal services, to name but a few.

On transportation: Nothing we do as a government does more for a strong economy than ensuring mobility for people and freight.

On the way here this morning we paid the toll on the 520 bridge. The new 520 bridge will provide a safe and transit-friendly connection between employment and residential centers in this one big city that straddles Lake Washington.

Even before light rail, nearly one of every five commuters to downtown Bellevue already uses public transit. In downtown Seattle it's one of every two.

The transportation we build creates the land use we will live with.

Light rail will soon be crossing the I-90 Bridge, bringing workers, shoppers, and visitors to and from the Eastside. Light rail will reach the new Spring district in the Bel-Red corridor, feeding the growth of what will be the county's most dynamic new residential and commercial center – bolstered by development rights transferred from the rural area.

The recent decision to align light rail through Bellevue took vision and leadership, from Bellevue City Councilmembers, Sound Transit, forward-looking business leaders, and so many others involved in achieving this historic outcome.

This is why I'm committed to working with regional leaders to regain ground lost on Sound Transit 2 due to this recession – and realizing the vision of light rail connecting Redmond to the east, Everett to the north, and yes, to Federal Way and Tacoma to the south.

Leadership is crucial. The governor and some in the legislature are heeding our call to at least grant us the local funding authority to fix our roads and bridges – inside and outside of cities.

And lawmakers can see we've done our part for transit in King County – reforming and streamlining the system, and adopting interim funding. Now we need long-term transit funding options, to keep our buses on the road and our economic recovery on track.

On energy – we've set an ambitious, but achievable, goal of meeting fully half of county government's energy needs from renewable energy sources.

  •  This year we'll fire up a co-generation system at the West Point Treatment Plant to convert sewer gas into heat and electricity for the plant, enough electricity to power 2,000 homes.
  •  We've identified county buildings and facilities where community partners can invest in solar panels to generate green power.
  •  We're installing 54 more charging stations for electric vehicles this year, for a total of 81 in our regional network.

On climate change – we will release the results of a new study that quantifies the impact of local consumption on the global environment. The bottom line: Buying local is not only good for our economy; it's good for the planet as well.

Animal services has emerged from years of criticism from advocates and others, myself included, who decried shelter conditions and inflexible thinking.

As late as 1990 nearly every animal that was sent there, was put down. But today we are on track to make Animal Services a model of government reform and humane care.

When I took office we brought in new management, and 27 cities joined us in partnership to turn that operation around.

Now we're getting more value for each dollar, increasing outside revenues, moving toward a sustainable system, and we have dramatically reduced euthanasia and increased adoptions.

In recognition of this new direction and newfound success, we have renamed the shelter in Kent the King County Pet Adoption Center. And you can see in the lobby today the new logo for Regional Animal Services that captures some of the joy of pets that are cared-for, and loved, and finding happy homes.
* * *

In my first year as Executive we focused on putting the government's house in order. Last year we raised our sights to work on getting the region out of the grips of this global recession.

We will get through this, but recovery is not happening quickly enough for many of our neighbors.

The new jobs report says national unemployment fell to 8.3 percent. The latest rate for King County is 7.2 percent. We are doing better than the nation. But that doesn't matter if you're one of the 80,000 in King County still out of work, five years into this recession.

So I will keep fighting, to speed our local recovery, and get our people back to work.

This isn't about government directly creating jobs. It's about creating the conditions and building the infrastructure to allow our economy to flourish, to produce good jobs with good wages and benefits, so that we can all, again, believe in a future where the next generation can do better than the last.

I fought hard and I will continue to fight until we expand the Washington State Convention Center, to create thousands of much needed construction jobs, and draw 130-thousand annual new visitors to King County. Every year we delay, we leave a quarter-billion dollars in new, direct spending on the table.

And I will seek more opportunities like the development of the old Kingdome North Lot, where a sea of asphalt will become 27-hundred much needed construction jobs and three-quarters of a billion dollars in economic activity, not to mention $20 million for King County –10-million dollars for the general fund, and another 10-million for Metro Transit.

I grew up across the lake, and across the Duwamish River, in West Seattle. My parents were teachers. My grandfather and his father were mill workers. My friends' parents made a good living from an honest day's work at the steel mill, or the docks, or Boeing.

I want King County to be a place where you can live and perhaps even become wealthy, but you don't have to be wealthy to live. A place where you can get educated, trained, and get a good job, and buy a decent home, and raise a family, and someday retire, and live better than your parents did, and know that your kids can live better than you.

The technology sector is one path to that dream. Another is our world-leading aerospace industry. And that's why we have convened regional partners, including the city of Bellevue, in a new King County Aerospace Alliance.

The Aerospace industry – including Boeing and hundreds of smaller manufacturers and suppliers - demands highly trained workers, and pays them a family wage.

Our Alliance has one goal – to foster the long-term economic vitality, growth and global competitiveness of the local aerospace industry – to keep our legacy of these family-wage jobs in King County and our region.

It's great news that the 737 MAX will be built in Renton. We will work to extend the RapidRide bus system to connect the Boeing plant with workers across the region. And we will push to remove the chokepoints on I-405 and Highway 167, and the interchange between the two – all part of the "aerospace highway" for the movement of parts and supplies.

This work is important because we face global competition not just from legacy manufacturers in Europe, but from new, emerging manufacturers getting into aerospace, in places like Russia, Canada, China, and Brazil. And, to be competitive, we need to build a local pipeline of skilled aerospace workers and engineers.

Here is an opportunity we can seize that aligns perfectly with our commitment to equity and social justice - for youth of all circumstances, including kids born in poverty, to get the education and learn a skill to get a good-paying job, and have that chance to do better than their parents.

Our goal must be to make the business environment outside the factory floor as efficient as Boeing and its employees have made it inside. A region-wide Lean exercise.

Next week, our partners in the Alliance will join me to announce the findings of our King County aerospace competitiveness study, along with an ambitious local Action Plan for Aerospace. These findings confirm the competitive advantage we enjoy in aerospace, and the commitment, momentum, and follow-through it will take from all of us to maintain that advantage.

I look forward to the challenge, because this is about preserving a vibrant manufacturing economy in King County, and opportunity for tens of thousands of workers.

* * *

Even before we had a manufacturing legacy, King County had a resource-based, rural economy of small farms and businesses.

In many places elsewhere, farms are disappearing. But thanks to farmland preservation bonds approved by forward-looking voters in 1979 – and a strong commitment to preventing urban sprawl – we've protected farms and forests in King County over the past 30 years.

Here, in the shadow of Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon … here in the home of 2-million people … King County now ranks ahead of two-thirds of the counties in the state in the value of agricultural production – and third in Western Washington, behind only Skagit and Whatcom Counties.

Farming in King County is changing. It's entrepreneurial. It's not only about growing crops and raising livestock, it's about adding value -- turning apples to applesauce, milk to cheese, greens to salad mixes, and delivering fresh produce to your home.

In and around Woodinville, more than 80 wineries are showing off vintages that are the envy of world. In Enumclaw we will be soon be turning cow manure into electricity.
In fact I was in Enumclaw recently to check in with Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards. In October we held the First Annual Executive's Small Business Awards right across the street here at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center. And Rockridge Orchards, which grows apples, pears and raspberries and makes them into premium ciders, fruit wines and jams, took home the prize for Rural Business of the Year.

I asked Wade and others to join a kitchen cabinet of entrepreneurs, a Rural Business Advisory Group, to consult on the emerging and evolving needs of those making a living in our rural area. Together we're re-examining and continually improving our policies and codes so that farmers like Wade can prosper.

We will continually ask how we can do better, where can we remove unnecessary barriers, how we can leverage local markets to keep forestry, farming, and other rural industries profitable in the state's most populous county.

* * *
The agenda I present today is one rooted in reform, and nurtured with collaboration – one that commits us to sustainable, long-term prosperity.

Where government has integrity, where it is efficient and responsive, it creates the climate for communities to prosper. But great prosperity only really matters if it also broad prosperity ...

  •  If it is fueled by good jobs in both the rural and urban areas, in both traditional and new industries …
  •  If it produces a high quality of life with parks and playfields, arts and cultural resources for all …
  • If children have access to a great education, and the opportunity to use their talent and drive to fulfill their potential.

No one is guaranteed success. But there is no reason that every child in this big and prosperous county should not have the opportunity to succeed. So, where we find barriers to this vision, let's work together as a region to remove them. Then we will have done something truly worthy.

In this changing world – coming out of the worst recession of our lifetimes – we in King County and the Central Puget Sound have the opportunity to do something to which few regions can aspire – Compete on the global stage. Whether we step up to that challenge is not a matter for a squabbling Congress, or even a shell-shocked Legislature. It is for us – the leaders, the thinkers, the entrepreneurs, the remarkable people of this place.

Yes, we face challenges, but I have to believe our best days are still ahead. I have faith in the creativity and innovation of the people of King County to build a sustainable and shared prosperity.

It's not going to be easy. It takes partnership. It takes discipline. We're doing good work. Let's build on what we've accomplished.

I thank you for your partnership to make and keep the state of King County strong.

* * *

King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

Read the Executive's biography