I was recently thumbing through a little book, Teamwork 101, by John C. Maxwell and found the following statement:
“Working together with other people toward a common goal is one of the most rewarding experiences of life.”
Last week I sat as a spectator at a public WIT (Whatcom Integration Team) meeting. Twenty committee members, mostly bureaucrats, sat around a table. This was their fifth meeting and they were discussing where to go with the information they had gathered and how to increase public understanding of what they were doing. For those who are unaware of this small segment of our county’s water planning, as best I can tell, this group was called together by the WRIA1 Joint Board, to create a pool of information about our ongoing water issues that would assist in accessing grant funding specifically from Puget Sound Partnership and more broadly from other sources. This is also the group that in the attempt to characterize issues of importance in our backyard gave a zero rating to rural independent living, several months back.
When I think back on “teams” I have been on most have been rewarding, either in knowledge gained, friendships earned, or goals accomplished. I have to say this was one of the most painful meeting experiences that I have ever witnessed. After 5 meetings some members were still struggling with the purpose of the group, some were struggling with what they felt were public misperceptions of their purpose, and another member sensing a disintegration of process blamed the WRIA 1 Planning Unit for their failures. According to WIT’s own literature the Planning Unit has nothing to do with the WIT team, so a further confusion was apparent. It was indeed a microcosm of our worst fears about governments: twenty expensive salaries wasted two hours to accomplish nothing.
After the meeting several committee members stopped and spoke with several of us who were there as public onlookers. They expressed dismay that they had been so misconstrued in the public eye. It had never been their intent to leave rural lifestyle out. They thought they had included agriculture and rural living in other terms like “greenbelts”. With that thought there evolved a rollicking one hour hallway discussion on the understanding of words and the feeling of disenfranchisement in the county. It became very apparent that the gaps in communication have become gulfs between city and county, bureaucrat and taxpayer. We have a long ways to go before this will become the “rewarding experience” spoken of in Maxwell’s book.
So where do we go from here. This committee was instituted by the WRIA1 Joint Board, so ultimately the instituting organization needs to regain control of this careening committee and determine where its purpose became derailed and how or if to proceed. This committee does sunset in June, at this point it is my humble opinion three more meetings would just be a further waste of taxpayer money. How do we fix the communication gulfs? One member from the public in the hallway suggested we begin by reading that old fable “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse”. Perhaps she was right.
~ Lorraine Newman