The haste with which the Douglas County Public Utility District (PUD) is severing ties with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is puzzling and troubling.
It’s not clear why the PUD is in such a hurry to take over operation of its fish hatcheries at Wells Dam and Winthrop from WDFW. The PUD’s reasoning for the sudden termination of its contract with WDFW is, charitably, even less clear.
The PUD announced in August that it would end its multi-million dollar contract with WDFW in 90 days and develop its own staffing. The PUD is currently advertising for positions at both sites. The state workers can apply for the PUD jobs. The PUD plans to staff the facilities with 10 workers; WDFW employed 18.
Other than continued employment, what’s the incentive for those WDFW workers to leave a state agency for a position with the organization that just deemed them expendable? Another fair question: Where will the PUD find people as experienced and knowledgeable as the WDFW employees?
That issue seems to be on the mind of PUD officials as well. They have asked the WDFW to help them in the transition to management of the hatcheries. So, the PUD tells WDFW “you’re fired,” and then says in a memo that “the District needs WDFW’s help and we again ask that you immediately appoint an employee at WDFW who is responsible for transition.”
Talk about having it both ways. We don’t need you, but we do need you.
It’s been suggested that PUD officials are canceling the WDFW contract because they are miffed about not having been told about a WDFW investigation of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment at Wells Dam. Four WDFW employees at Wells were fired after the investigation was concluded.
Seems like a flimsy rationale, if that is the only reason for ending the contract. The nature of such investigations is that information is closely held to keep them contained and objective. And it was WDFW personnel who were being investigated. As a contractor, WDFW has the right to independently conduct its own internal business. It’s fair to ask: If the sexual atmosphere was that problematic, why didn’t the PUD know about it, at least tangentially?
Part of the PUD’s explanation for taking over the hatcheries is “they’re our fish.” News flash: They were always your fish, and nobody seems to be arguing that WDFW didn’t take good care of them.
Meanwhile, other agencies and stakeholders including the Yakama Nation are raising alarms about how the abrupt change in management might affect the fish being raised at the hatcheries. They are asking legitimate questions about the PUD’s need for speed in taking control.
The whole thing seems like a turf-war dispute over which humans want to have primacy, when it should instead be primarily about the fish. Everyone involved should be invested in doing whatever it takes, however long it takes, to ensure that the fish are being properly taken care of.
Filling the boots
In the past, process, perception and transparency haven’t always been concepts that were embraced by the Okanogan County Fire District 6 board of commissioners. Decisions were made that sometimes seemed tone-deaf to the public’s interest.
Things may be changing for the better. At its recent meeting to discuss a successor for outgoing Chief Don Waller, the commissioners talked about process, perception and transparency with refreshing candor and concern for how they should proceed.
The main issue was whether the district should open up a formal application process to fill the chief position — or simply select the obvious candidate, Acting Chief Cody Acord. To some in the community, that might seem like another short-cut to decision-making.
To their credit, the commissioners considered how it might appear if they named Acord without going through a full hiring protocol — when the outcome was likely to be the same. They opened the discussion up to audience members, including many firefighters who threw their enthusiastic support behind Acord.
Acord is an experienced, well-liked and highly regarded firefighter whose appointment to the permanent post makes sense for the department and the community. He has a good grasp of the issues facing the district. Whatever the process, it was unlikely that the commissioners would have found a better candidate.