Intergovernmental Collaborative Group 

Port Townsend, Washington; Jefferson County, Washington; Port of Port Townsend; Jefferson County Public Utility District #1 

John Mauro, Port Townsend City Manager

The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant stresses, challenges, and disruption for local governments nationwide and exacerbated many preexisting structural vulnerabilities. Since before the pandemic, Jefferson County, Washington, has struggled with chronic poverty, depression, and suicide; lack of childcare; job instability; food insecurity; inadequate infrastructure, including broadband; and affordability and availability of quality housing. These have been amplified by underlying issues of racism, inequity, and injustice further intensified by the pandemic. Many of these issues are cross-jurisdictional and affect overlapping constituencies, but no formal mechanism existed for deep, agile, and meaningful collaboration among agencies and communities.

Recognizing that a fresh, dynamic collaboration was essential to progress—even survival—the four general-purpose local governments in the region established the Intergovernmental Collaborative Group (ICG). In addition to Jefferson County and the city of Port Townsend, they included the Port of Port Townsend and Jefferson County Public Utility District #1 ( ICG's success depended on leadership from the elected officials and administrators of the four governments. The elected officials, in particular, found themselves in a new forum that required courage and collaboration as they made decisions about the partnership—and they stepped up to the plate. The group met more than a dozen times, all in open meetings, and sponsored dozens of community meetings. The goal of the collaboration was to align and amplify a coordinated, courageous community response to the pandemic that would promote long-term resilience for the region. Supercharged by this new structure, individuals and organizations stepped up their commitment, creativity, and leadership to tackle the challenges to the long-term collective well-being of the communities.  

The initial result was a self-forming constellation of six community groups that focused on six identified challenges and priorities: children and families, jobs and economy, broadband, food resilience, culture and events, and human services. Those groups, stewarded the ICG, produced a unanimously adopted COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Action Plan. The plan focuses on agreed-upon investments in building and maintaining physical infrastructure, the fundamentals of a robust local economy, a thriving and fair society, and a healthy natural environment. The investments also include investments in social infrastructure to ensure protection of the most vulnerable and to strengthen the local democratic system.

ICG members adapted their institutions to become more collaborative and inclusive and to be ready for future challenges. Finally, they invested in strategic capacity and advocacy to ensure that they work together to advocate for their collective needs and vision. Although the Action Plan was 100 pages long, it was action-oriented and community-generated. Projects are underway and some have already delivered positive results. Community virtual events, a collaborative website, and regular media presence have amplified the reach, message, and positive impact.

The Action Plan represented a first bold step toward community recovery and resilience—but it is a living document, meant for frequent refinement. It is also a testament to a new way of working together that holds bright promises for the future. The ICG partners have re-committed themselves through another joint resolution, and the community groups continue their work on issues in anticipation of future funding streams and collaborative opportunities. The Intergovernmental Collaborative group learned several lessons. First, partnerships prevail—but they can slow things down. Well-executed partnerships enable far greater progress on complex issues, but working together takes extra time and effort. The ICG challenged traditional ways of making decisions and working together, ultimately forcing a creative evolution that has proven to be more efficient, effective, and lasting.

The four administrators who proposed and stewarded the new agency partnership were already servant leaders to their elected officials and the broader community. Still, they needed to nurture greater emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and creativity at an institutional level to refresh the role and story of local government and perhaps build better community trust and confidence. Media attention and positive acknowledgment from regional neighbors, the state legislative delegation, and the federal congressional delegation helped cement trust in a well-organized, collaborative, and integrated government approach. As it energized us for what’s possible, our best times are ahead.