McKenna, staff give primer on government efficiency

County managers hear how to put workers to best use

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Attorney Melanie de Leon enjoys watching TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and A&E’s “Hoarders,” shows where people who look like a mess or live in one receive help.

“I like getting things organized and spiffed up,” de Leon told Clark County managers Wednesday during a presentation at the Clark County Public Service Center.

De Leon, executive director of the Executive Ethics Board, was one of three employees from Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office who spoke about creating efficiencies in government.

The process doesn’t have to be too complicated, she said. All employees have tasks they hate to do and feel aren’t necessary. Start with those, she said, and ask for other suggestions from the employees.

“Don’t try to overthink this,” she said.

McKenna, a Republican running for governor against U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, spoke for approximately 10 minutes before excusing himself to participate in a conference call.

McKenna was invited to speak by Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick.

Van Nortwick said he felt the presentation would be worthwhile as the county has been going through a reconfiguration to bring costs in line with revenues.

McKenna, who was elected attorney general in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, said almost everyone thinks about how they could improve the place where they work.

Leaders have the desire to make the changes, he said.

And there’s a difference between a boss and a leader.

“Anyone can be given authority and become a boss,” McKenna said. “A leader is someone people want to follow.”

McKenna said he puts emphasis on training for his employees and encourages high standards.

“Our vision is to be the best public law office in America,” he said.

He urged the managers to empower their employees by letting them know that their opinions matter and, if they have viable suggestions for streamlining work flow, showing them that their ideas will be taken seriously and implemented.

Deputy Attorney General Christina Beusch spoke about measuring objective outcomes as a way to gauge whether workers are performing effectively and efficiently.

For example, the AG’s office has a goal of winning 80 percent of appeals. Historically, that’s a realistic target, she said. If deputy attorneys general don’t hit that mark, it doesn’t mean they are failures, she said. It’s just a reason to look at what’s going on: Are they choosing the wrong cases to appeal? Has the law changed significantly in an area that’s made it more difficult for the state to prevail?

“Numbers don’t say everything. We know that,” Beusch said.

De Leon said McKenna had employees start with the small goal of saving one minute a day by streamlining or eliminating work.

“When you allow people to streamline their processes, it’s great,” de Leon said. “It just feeds on itself.”

She said the department has task forces to implement the new practices of “lean government,” a model emphasized by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Examples in other departments include going from 63 call centers to one statewide center for the Department of Social and Health Services and setting a standardized menu in the institutions managed by the Department of Corrections.

Deputy Attorney General Shirley Battan spoke to county managers about performance-based employee assessment, and how employees who meet or exceed goals should be awarded financially or with additional leave.

“As you might imagine, the monetary part has been suspended,” she said.

The Attorney General’s office was the first to receive permission to do performance-based assessments, and other state departments have followed suit.

A county manager asked if the model has been tried in any departments with union members.

Battan said since the Attorney General’s office hires attorneys, it does not have a union. Attempts at unionizing support staff have failed, she said.

After the presentation, Clark County Administrator Bill Barron said nearly 67 percent of the county’s approximately 1,600 employees belong to one of 14 bargaining units.

Overall, however, he said he thought the presentation was a good use of time. Surveying the 20 or so managers who attended, he said that for some the information was good validation that certain practices are endorsed by a state agency and for others it was good to have exposure to the ideas.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice;http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;stephanie.rice@columbian.com.