Thursday, March 11, 2010

Billy Garrett: Candidate for County Comission Dist. 1

He approaches the job of county commissioner from the perspective of a long-time senior manager, and with the quiet self-confidence and demeanor of a Westerner. "Service is the key word for me," he explained between sips of tea at Milagro Coffee Wednesday morning. "The idea of a professional means you have a client to serve." In this case the client is the public, sometimes with conflicting views of what is best.

At a different point in the conversation he said, "we are going to be dealing with change, whether we like it or not. The question is, what kind of change do we want to see?" Then he went on to say managers need to ask their clients these questions and be able to satisfy them that their plans reflect the values implicit in the answers.

Garrett is a thoughtful man, and a careful listener with an open mind. But he's faced enough hard-to-solve, real-life problems to know the tough ones aren't easy to solve. If he listens carefully, it is also with a critical ear, but without rendering judgments. He picked up on my ideas readily, probing for more with good questions. In the end it wasn't so much an interview as a conversation about finding approaches to policy making at the county level that work.

Garrett comes equipped with an enviable set of tools he would bring to the county commission table: he retired last year after a full career in the National Park Service, and after eleven years as the operational manager of Gateway National Recreation Area, a 25,000-acre national park located in the New York City metro area. Knowing how aggressive New Yorkers can be, this cannot have been an easy job. He managed a budget of $20 million which, with special projects, was even higher. Before that he was Chief of Architecture, Denver Service Center, apparently a planning hub for the park service, where he oversaw planning, design and construction services for all national parks. So he has had experience in one of our best national agencies dealing with multiple constituencies, choosing priorities, planning new systems, and even designing buildings. They also had enough confidence in his diplomatic skills to get him to negotiate restitution of tribal rights within Death Valley National Park. In my experience very few top planners are also excellent people persons. From what I've seen Garrett is one of this small elite, the kind you would love to have as your boss.

What most appealed to me was Garrett's understanding of the scale of effort it takes to promote community involvement in decision-making and convert that, through tireless efforts to integrate institutions, bureaucrats, elected representatives, business groups, etc., into a solid plan that you turn over to competent managers for completion. He's obviously had serious experience doing this at the National Park Service, and I have no doubt he would lift the bar a little higher in terms of what the commission expects from its staff. The Park Service also gets by on a shoestring of funding, so I would expect Garrett to be quick to spot waste and inefficiency and know how to handle it quietly.

He has deep roots in the Mesilla Valley. His sister is married to Judge Jim Locatelli, and his father was a professor at NMSU, so he grew up here. He now lives in the same house his father designed in the mid-1960s. He's married to Cynthia Garrett, who also retired from the National Park Service. He's running for the seat now held by Oscar Butler, who in my book has been one of the strongest commissioners we've had in years.

No comments: