Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Director of Transportation transported in a new direction.

For those of you who have had the pleasure of working with Reg Clarke, (soon-to-be-former) Director of Transportation, the news of his departure must be terribly sad.

On more than a few occasions, I have had to work with Transportation to ascertain where bus stop locations should be placed to most effectively serve district students. It has always been a pleasure.

Like everyone else in business, property developers are constantly trying to reduce expenses and maximize profit for their company. One very effective way to maximize profit is to minimize the number and magnitude of off-site improvements frequently imposed by County government. The sort of off-site improvements that are normally shifted to the developer include neighborhood sidewalks, specifically the ones that take new students to existing bus stops.

The County relies on local school districts to provide information about where new bus stops should be placed or how existing bus stops should be relocated to accommodate new homes in new neighborhoods. When an existing bus stop is 300 feet away from a development, the school district provides that location to the County and the County provides it to the developer. When the developer receives this unprofitable bit of news, they immediately call the school district to complain about how the current bus stop doesn't make any sense and how a public agency needs to be concerned about the public - specifically the developer.

Weaker minds would take the easy way out and just modify the original response to accommodate the developer's profit-driven demands. This approach would shift the cost of infrastructural improvements back to the County (or future incorporating City) and unfairly penalize the taxpayer by subsidizing new development. I have always believed that it is far better to have the necessary improvements installed while the demand for these improvements is being created. Waiting for the County to build a sidewalk can take a long time and may never actually happen. Unless a child is struck by a car.

When I was contacted by a developer, I walked them through this string of facts and most of them agreed that off-site improvements were necessary, and in fact were an enhancement to the developer's project. However, there were a few developers that required face time and wanted to poke and prod at our organizational justification and methodology. That is when I called Reg.

Reg is a treasure trove of valuable facts and statistics about the real cost of creating a new bus stop. Every time a bus slows down, stops and then speeds up again, 1/16th of a gallon of fuel is consumed. Over the life of an additional bus stop, this can be a phenomenal expense that quickly dwarfs the real cost of sidewalk construction in today's dollars.

Reg also knows the District's service area better than most. In having conversations with him over the telephone, it was almost as if he was mentally driving down the very road we were discussing. Details were plentiful. Facts were abundant. The man is a genius and the master of his profession. If he was even a little unclear about a possible bus stop location, he would drive out to the site to refresh his memory and deliberate the issue completely.

Every now and then it would be necessary to meet with prospective developers. People that were aware of the District's status as a public agency, tapped our resources when they were pondering the acquisition of sites to develop. Reg always responded promptly, knowing that informing a developer in advance would usually result in the construction of needed sidewalks through the inclusion of this expense in their cost-benefit evaluation.

It has become a bit of an open secret that the new site offers some real traffic challenges. While the Alderwood Mall location is ideally-positioned to allow for the starting of all of the District's buses early in the morning without concern from neighbors, the new site will definitely have a dramatic impact.

There is also the issue of access. The Mall, by virtue of the fact that it draws customers from every part of the region, offers great access to the District's fleet of buses traveling in the opposite direction to collect the children of these same customers. The traffic impact along Cedar Valley Road will be mind-numbing. If you live in this neighborhood, now would be a good time to sell. Contact the blog if you need an exceptionally gifted real estate agent. We would be happy to recommend one.

Without a doubt, a man of Reg's exceptional wisdom, would know when to get out of Dodge (and I don't mean the vehicle made by Chrysler). If the District is so committed to manufacturing a permanent legacy for "Nicky Suspenders" without regard for the more practical issue of minimizing the expense to taxpayers, who is Reg to throw himself under the organizational bus.

A wise man knows when to leave, even if he has no place to go.

Editorial: The new Planning and Property Management Clericalist should print this entry for the insight it provides.


Anonymous said...

The absence of departures suggests there are no other wise men. said...

Donovan Bray is certainly wise.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...if Bray is so wise then why can't fix my computer?

Anonymous said...

Well, my bullying colleagues always kept telling me, "If you don't like it here, go someplace else."

That is certainly an option. And you can probably leave in one piece with most of your sanity.

It just proves one of the points made to several administrative types: If you treat good people badly, they WILL leave. And then what hapens? The void is filled with less capable workers who have a long learning curve to reach the ability of the people who left (if they ever do). In the meantime, the output of work is below the previous standards and you have gone backwards in your ability to serve your "customers."

Years ago, I took a job as an assistant manager in a restaurant. The biggest problem was turnover. I spent most of the first three months training people because people kept leaving. Then I requested the responsibility of scheduling. I simply treated people well (Tolo? Can't work this Friday night? OK, but I'll need you to work the next two so that somebody else can have a Friday off). Within two months, people stopped leaving and I got to do my real job which was to manage my workers not train them. In the next six months, only one person left (for a better paying wait job). That is unheard of at that level of the restaurant business.

If you mistreat people, people will leave; if you treat them with respect, they will do great things for you. That is the lesson that seems to be missed at Edmonds time and time again.

Best of luck in the future for those good people who need to "go someplace else." You WILL be missed. said...

The computer may be tweaked beyond repair, but if you ever get it running it just might connect to the network. :)

Sorry for your troubles.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Reuther's input, as usual, is factual and insightful. I would want to emphasize that this climate is not a product of neglectful behavior on the part of District administration but rather the Edmonds School District intentionally creating an environment which fosters and rewards high turnover and has for the past two regimes. I vividly remember even former superintendent Brian Benzel when questioned about employees leaving over climate issues, openly responding that he was “glad people were willing to take risks” by moving on.

In many departments the high turnover rate is the base reasoning for justifying mid-management positions and to eliminate this factor would mean to undercut the apparent necessity of supervisory roles. Primary examples would be foodservice and custodial staff. It is in the interest of mid-management to maintain a work force that is seen as being unable to make intelligible decisions, possess appropriate work knowledge, and in general function to any appreciable degree without a liberal amount of managerial oversight (though one may certainly argue that custodial staff accomplished the former for some seven-ish years). Respect is reserved for employees capable of functioning with minimal oversight and it is therefore necessary that employees are afforded no such consideration..

Upper management requires mid-management to provide justification for their inflated roles. New, less tenured and less knowledgeable employees are an easy lot to intimidate and mold. Such employees are also less expensive in both base salary and benefits. The District makes no real effort to attract high quality candidates for most positions. The notion of retaining quality workers is not within the philosophy of “average compensation.” One could go on to lack of breath.

Climate reform is not going to occur in the District for the above reasons and a variety of other reasons covered in this blog. I would love to be proven wrong though I believe that I’m in little danger of wiping egg (or anything else originating from a similar anatomical proximity) from my face. As I have mentioned before – my crystal ball and the voices in my head rarely lie.

A penny for your thoughts - I just felt like contributing my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Whomever takes the role of Mr. Reg Clarke will have an enormous pair of shoes to fill. Fortunately for them, they will have quite the human resource and institutional knowledge from the people that actually make that department go. Reg is not the only person in that department who can describe streets with such great detail that you think they are actually driving down the street as they talk to you on the phone.

The staff has come a long way from drawing maps out by hand and filing them away in notebooks; fortunately looking at cost-effective solutions, with less being better. EduLoge and FleetPro are great examples of this, as you can visit a website and find out your child's bus stop. Definately a thing to help the community.

In-house, they look for ways to make the process easy for people within the schools ot schedule a bus for their school event or activity.

Also, they have a great team of mechanics who take pride in the busses they fix and maintain.

Last, but not least, it is a credit to them on how they do all that they can to keep students safe. Every bus is kept in great working order, routes planned and insured for student safety, and day in and day out, they transport 100's of kids without incident.

This area of the district is definately overworked, as many people do the job of at least two, if not three, people. They are cramped in portables, since the location was "temporary assiagnment" for the last few decades. And yet, they provide a service to students second to none in this state, a glorious example of keeping transportation in house and can be cost-effective, not to mention safer, than the alternatives.