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Thoughts on Bozeman and Performance Audits

Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, who was first elected in 2002, stunned everyone with the announcement he would resign his position to become the new Chief Executive Officer for the Port of Bremerton, beginning June 8. Bremerton City Council President Cecil McConnell will serve as interim Mayor.

It will be interesting to see if Bozeman endorses anyone to succeed him. Councilman Mike Shepard, who previously announced his intention to challenge Bozeman, along with Council members Will Maupin, and Brad Gehring, have all thrown their hats in the ring. Former County Commissioner Patti Lent has as well, and so has Daryl Daugs.

Either Maupin or Gehring could step in with almost no learning curve. But Maupin has little patience for disagreement, and his “my way or the highway” style won’t serve Bremerton when it comes to the cooperation he’ll need from other electeds. Gehring is more low-key and collaborative — perhaps too much so.

Shepard, who works for the EPA, is a nice guy, but a committed environmentalist who will focus more on things he’s comfortable with — like turning the city dark green — than on things he isn’t, like economic development.

Lent brings the baggage of her four years as commissioner, the Critical Areas Ordinance, and the Harborside condos debacle with her. Although she stepped up and took responsibility for the decision, her judgmentmay be questioned. Daugs is personable, sharp and quick on his feet. His strong ties to organized labor may be a problem though, as they will try and extract a heavy price from the City from him.

There was some speculation that attorney Ed Wolfe, who is challenging Bremerton Municipal Judge James Doctor in November, jump in.

Wolfe, is consensus-oriented, politically savvy, works very well across political party lines, and may actually be a better fit than anyone else running. But it doesn’t surprise me he declined. Wolfe, who I consider a friend, has hankered to be a judge for almost as long as I’ve known him, and that’s where his heart is.

After the announcement, there was lots of typically snarky commentary on the Kitsap Sun blogs from the usual cast of naysayers, for many of whom, wholesale vitrolicism is favored over factual commentary, and/or reality.

In spite of that, frankly, I think Bozeman has done a hell of a job for Bremerton. He took a city that was flat on its ass, with a petty, quarreling City Council, and no leadership in the Mayor’s office — one that had endured years of slow, painful deterioration of both its physical body as well as its soul, and breathed life back into it. He gave Bremerton the power to believe in itself once again — to believe it could rise above the joke known regionally as “Bummerton,” and become as respected again as it was during its WW II heyday.

Cary Bozeman was a relentless cheerleader for Bremerton, with the emphasis on “leader.” He came here from Bellevue with no political or personal baggage, major political connections, experience at accomplishing big things, and a totally different perspective than the negativity that passed for leadership in Bremerton for two generations. He articulated a vision of what was possible for Bremerton — something very different than what people here were used to. He was a man people could actually believe in, and who believed in the opportunities Bremerton’s future offered.

The face of the city has changed a lot in the seven and half years he’s been Mayor. Is there anyone who still thinks any of the usual suspects running the city before Bozeman came, could have accomplished anything near what he has? The entire downtown would still be crumbling under the weight of its own forgotten and abandoned dreams while the waterfront remained a parking lot if it weren’t for Cary Bozeman.

He gave Bremerton a new sense of pride, and with that, a new lease on life. He has the courage of his convictions and because of that, hasn’t always been the most popular guy in some parts of town — but true visionary leaders seldom are. There’s still more to be done, and some things left unfinished, but Bremerton is undeniably better off today than it would have been, just because Cary Bozeman was Mayor. My hat is off to him.

I sincerely wish Cary the best in his new job. He has his work cut out for him. The Port is suffering from a major crisis of credibility and lack of trust on the part of the voters. Hopefully, Bozeman can work his magic one more time, because the Port indisputably needs him to.

In 2005, more than 56 percent of the voters passed Initiative 900, giving State Auditor Brian Sonntag performance audit authority. The initiative specified the funding source — 0.16 percent of the state’s portion of sales and use tax collections — putting them into an account dedicated for performance audits. Yet state lawmakers this past session blatantly flaunted the will of the voters once again by stripping $29 million — 74 percent — from the performance audit program. Sonntag politely called the action “shortsighted.”

Sonntag, a Democrat, is perhaps this state’s most trusted elected official. He’s convinced the legislature’s action was little more than political retribution for his decision to appear at the late-session tea party on the steps of the Legislative Building along with thousands of people protesting government spending priorities.

Sonntag’s performance audit program has proven to save taxpayers $10 for every tax dollar his department spends doing its job. For state government, performance audits have recommended nearly $500 million in potential savings. The flaw is the failure of government officials and lawmakers to implement the auditor’s recommendations — actions necessary to bring about the cost savings.

Watching our tax dollars so diligently has naturally made Sonntag less than popular at agencies like WSDOT, the Port of Seattle, and Sound Transit, as well as most other public and quasi-public agencies that prefer operating in the shadows away from public scrutiny. It’s also no big secret that the powerful public-employee union and education lobbyists strongly resent his watchdog approach to wasteful spending.

This move was hardball dirty politics — not to mention downright fiscal stupidity. Surprisingly, Governor Christine Gregoire had the good sense to negotiate a deal restoring around $26 million for performance audits over the next two years.

Numerous initiatives have made it real clear voters demand financial accountability for their hard-earned tax dollars. It’s time the legislature got over its arrogant distain for us, and paid attention.

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