Hello everyone and best wishes for this new year of 2016. I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season with family and friends.
In mid-December I attended, by invitation of the Washington Association of Counties, a leadership conference held at Harvard Kennedy School in Boston. The conference title was “Leveraging Innovation in County Government.” Over a three-day period I, and about 20 other elected officials and their respective staff from across the United States, listened to a group of speakers talk to us about a range of issues, from ways to enhance the public value of local government; service delivery in an era of declining resources; and a particularly interesting interactive discussion on the community-based justice response to young adults.
The Incarceration and Prevention Task Force is working to identify programs and facilities that would move us toward effective change in our criminal justice approach.
It was a good time to attend given the issues we face here. What I confirmed is that the same issues face our communities across the nation. Everyone struggles with reducing incarceration rates, including finding alternatives for those suffering from addiction and/or mental health issues in our jails. We discussed the underlying cause of our crime rates, including the growing heroin epidemic and the resulting crimes associated with the acquisition and distribution of the drug. A point of discussion is that society can lower jail populations by reducing the sentences for crimes committed and /or find alternatives to incarceration, but how do we as a society reduce the crime rate? Generating the programs to reach individuals and families is the central challenge to meeting today’s demands, allowing us to build for the future. The discussion at the conference was thought provoking even as it was affirming that we are not the only ones. It was a remarkable opportunity to share Whatcom County’s experiences and our innovative programs and to bring home cutting edge concepts to help achieve results for our citizens here.
Challenges of adapting
Highlights of the Harvard Kennedy forum included a keynote address by Dr. Ronald Heifetz, King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at the school and best-selling author of “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading.” His remarks were on the issue of how to move service organizations through the challenges of adapting. “It’s a long-term transformation”, says Heifetz. He says it’s critical to find and support the people who exercise leadership but who don’t have the cover of formal authority. These are the change makers within an organization and within a populace.
I know we have those change makers amongst us in Whatcom County. I am thankful for the wide range of diverse opinions and beliefs that we hold. It will make us stronger in the long run as we listen to the stakeholders on the issues we face on many fronts.
We have many challenges ahead that will involve many stakeholders and change makers. The Incarceration and Prevention Task Force is working to identify programs and facilities that would move us toward effective change in our criminal justice approach. The replacement jail issue hasn’t been resolved, nor has the Emergency Medical Services funding. I will also be engaging County Council on the need for major (and extremely expensive) renovation of the exterior of the courthouse in February, asking for their leadership to resolve this long-standing issue.
Thank you for supporting my return to office as county executive. I intend to spend the next four years moving our government priorities forward. I encourage our citizens to engage as well and give us your ideas and comments on your personal concerns and areas of expertise.
This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws to provide to share updates about Whatcom County issues and projects. He invites citizens to contact him at 360-778-5200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.