Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Second Look at SWFWMD’s New Dawn

Blake Guillory certainly arrived at SWFWMD with a flash.  Before he even walked through the door, he began shaking the organizational tree.  But was he really wrong to target some of the district’s highest ranking managers and arrange for them to leave?
I’ve made quite a deal about it being just another sign of Governor Rick Scott’s ruthless and insensitive “reduction in government size and cost” campaign but was Blake Guillory really wrong in what he did?
Here’s what I think.
If he made any mistake, it was in the timing but, really, he just did what I’ve done at least twice in my own career, one of those times at SWFWMD in 1997.  I just didn't do it so dramatically.  So, maybe we need to recognize the fact that every new leader needs to put his own team in place and let that dog lie.
As for whether or not the board blessed the release of the district’s general counsel, Bill Bilenky, its chief regulatory manager, Richard Owen, and its chief technical manager, Bruce Wirth, board members are saying that, while they assumed there would be changes, they were not specifically aware that he was going to do what he did.  The three individuals involved are each very capable and respected professionals and among the highest ranking at the district.  One would have thought that board members were at least briefed that the policy world they direct at SWFWMD was about to have a sizable seismic bump.
The fact that they were not is important because if Guillory had briefed them and gotten a nod to proceed from a majority of them, it’s the same as polling which can be viewed as a violation of the Sunshine Law.  Apparently this did not happen, based upon board members’ comments to Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times which was reported a day after the word got out.
If Guillory did anything wrong, again, it was the timing, something that would probably not have raised an eyebrow in the private sector.  There, it wouldn’t be considered very unusual for a new CEO to clean house and restructure it to his own liking immediately upon taking over.  If one is going to be held responsible for the success of an organization, he is wise to begin with a new slate of his own making. 
In this case, however, it was a shock to have taken such action so quickly, but also gutsy.  From one point of view it wasn’t real good headwork but from another it was a statement of firmness that he has arrived and it’s a new day at the district.
But this isn’t the private sector.  Whatever is done in government, especially at an agency that affects so many people in so many ways, a manager can never forget there is a very bright light shining on virtually everything he or she does.  Every decision is going to be scrutinized and, frankly, every decision is going to have those who think it’s good and those who think it stinks.  Not some decisions, all decisions.  It is truly a glass house and Guillory just had his first lesson in transparency.  Maybe that’s a scar that’s good to get early on, the first of many he can expect as the head of water management district.
He has not held a government position before, I understand.  Watching government from the outside, no matter how close one might be, is nothing like having to run it from the inside.  I’ve met Blake Guillory previously when he was a consulting engineer and I was working at another agency but I don’t know him personally.  His peers speak very highly of him.
So, no matter what I might think of the governor’s methods, I hope we can give the new director at SWFWMD a chance to show us what he’s got before we get too critical of his.
There are tremendous challenges ahead for him. 

His agency budget has been limited by the governor and legislature to the point where there is a valid question whether it can now do the tasks it has been assigned by law to do. 
He has a staff that is badly rattled by all the slashing and gashing at all the water management districts and government everywhere, at all levels.  People are rightfully afraid of losing their jobs.  He has marching orders from the governor to reinvent, reorganize, reduce, rethink how water is being managed and to find a way to do it more efficiently.  He will have to do this without causing detriment to the state’s unique natural character and quality of life. 
But, clearly, his first job will be to find a way to lead his newly adopted staff to a new sense of stability and worth, to reassure them that the work they do is critical to our future and our children’s future.  He will need to convince them of this despite the cynicism and negative attitudes so pervasive in today’s political climate.  If he is successful, he will have all the respect and allegiance he needs from the hard-working, dedicated staff I know them to be.
Next he will need to turn to the enormous and difficult responsibilities of the district which are now his own.
He will be responsible for assuring water flows cleanly in all the natural streams, rivers and lakes of the 10,000 square miles of the district, an area the size of the state of Vermont. 
He will be responsible for assuring aquifers, where 90% of our population gets its drinking water, remain fresh, safe and unpolluted.
He will be responsible for assuring 450,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands under his stewardship are properly managed and cared for in a way that preserves all the reasons they were placed in public ownership anyway.  And while doing so, allow the public to avail themselves of those lands and enjoy their bounty in passive ways.
He will be responsible for assuring the enormous police powers of the agency are administered with fairness and wisdom, and in a way that least intrudes into the lives of those directly affected by them.
He will be responsible for the safety and property of over four million people during major rainfall events and the inevitable floods that follow.  After the flooding, he will need to refocus and start worrying about how he’s going to assure there will be enough water to grow and sustain the commerce of the region in an environmentally sensitive way.
Let there be no mistake about this.  It is a huge and difficult task.
So, Mr. Guillory, welcome aboard.  I truly wish you and all those under your supervision and care success in every respect.


  1. Your well-written comments and observation are a "must read" for any student of the workings of government. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. With your permission, I would like to quote from all or parts of your Oct. 9, 2011 commentary in a project I am working on. I am in CT. until the 19th. Please send me your phone number.

    The majority of people in the private sector have no idea how bright the lights are when in a leadership role in the public sector. Ben Watts, FDOT Secretary wrote a piece on the difference between the public sector and private sector. The main point was, "make sure you cover your backside."

    Keep on writing, I enjoy your thoughts and style. I could forward this to many on may email list, but chose a few friends that have a working knowledge of the workings of government.

  2. Sonny, Keep your heartful words comin

  3. I thought that your follow-up blog about giving the new E.D. the opportunity to bring his team on board was very appropriate. We should not be too quick to judge. Let the E.D. get his team in place and let’s see where he takes the District.

  4. Disappointing, this reversal. Guillany answers to Carlos who speaks directly to the governor to do his bidding. To insinuate that Bruce Wirth was a capable and respected employee is insulting to many people who experienced his domineering style, contempt for the life sciences, micro-managerial demands and neopotism that installed and protected incompetant directors and managers. Many grievences were filed against this man during his career, and yet he still was promoted into higher levels of power, protected by an HR director of dubious ethics herself. As for Guillany being able to reassure his badly demoralized staff - that is interesting considering he is getting ready to fire another 200 in the new year. When a man takes a job in which he knows that his marching orders are to devestate the organization he is heading, it is hardly possibly for anyone to think he is going in it to accomplish all the noble tasks you described. He is there for one reason - to gut the agency, get rid of no-good, lazy bureacrats, and shut the place down. He is Scott's handmaiden.

  5. May I ask what is wrong with the people who are at SWFWMD now? Are we looking at the budget in terms of heads or dollars.
    Has anyone asked the current employees what they think. After all they are the core of the district, not the executives and certainly not the Board of Governors or the CEO himself. Why not have the new director work with the current staff and see, if he as could as everyone says, he can manage to work with them. They know the district, he doesn't and neither will anyone he brings in
    Has anyone asked the current employees if, in order to keep their jobs,they would agree to a certain number days a month without pay and/or a 10% pay cut. They would be taking home less, but they would still have a paycheck and health benefits and the dirtict would still have the people who have won praise for their dedication for years. Getting rid of people should never be the first choice, but the last.