Like many others across the Bay region, I have been wrestling with the draft of the Chesapeake 2000 Bay Agreement to chime in with “my two cents worth” before the close of the comment period.
Armed with a copy of the draft, some informative and insightful documents, mailings, and analysis pieces courtesy of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Bay Journal, I set out in earnest to do just that when I was interrupted by my 8-year-old son, Jacob. “Hey Dad, have your ever heard of crazy eights? My friend,Arnie told me it’s a really cool card game. Do you know how to play?”
Without thinking, I barked back, “Yeah, Jake. Now that you mention it, I’ve got my own version of crazy eights right in front of me now!” My son had stumbled upon my sentiments of the moment in dredging up memories of that simple card game, where one never quite knows what’s coming next from the stack of cards.
That’s precisely how I was feeling as I navigated through the lengthy draft document, attempting to ferret out from the comprehensive and weighty laundry list of reassuring platitudes and good intentions the objects of my search: a bold and ambitious direction for the future, quantifiable and due-date-specific new commitments and an engaging and innovative framework that promised success down the road.
Alas, for the most part, I found it lacking. In reviewing my proposed comments and unanswered, lingering questions, I began to sense an emerging rough sketch of how this cumbersome, complex, confusing and wearisome draft document might very handily be improved.
Hence, my “crazy eights” critique, or perhaps I should say crazy “ates,” which cover some elemental points:
1. Designate a new name for the regional effort. It’s high time that the program name reflect both the expanded mission and the full scope of the landscape: perhaps the Chesapeake Watershed Restoration Pro gram, or maybe the Chesapeake Watershed Protection Partnership; in any case, something new.
2. Incorporate all the of watershed partners now, not later. Frame the agreement as an explicit and irresistible invitation and an unmistakable landmark challenge to New York, West Virginia and Delaware to join as partners. Put them on notice; we need them now.
3. Innovate to improve efficiency and cut costs. Steal a page from private industry’s playbook and move toward program coordination that emphasizes increased electronic communication: e-mail; list serve-based documents, policy review and comment; expanded teleconferencing and video-conferencing; as well as Web-based external communication, client service and non-paper product delivery. Move away from too many meetings, too many miles traveled, and their associated unnecessary air pollution.
4. Integrate all, not some, of the key issues into the roster of commitments. If each of the four sections of the agreement speak to critical work — work worth doing by the collective efforts of the current and expanded partners — then they’re each worthy of three or four meaningful commitments; commitments that are task specific, measurable, numerically quantifiable and with due dates — in a word, fully accountable. The glaring omission of a toxics commitment stands out, as does the lack of a commitment in the entire final section titled, “Individual Responsibility and Community Engagement.” Ironically, this last section alleges to capture the essence of the new community level effort and focus that program mangers know must be prioritized and aggressively implemented.
5. Invigorate current signatory partners by openly delegating more responsibility and defining their roles succinctly. If the jurisdictions are going to be the driving force in accomplishing commitments, say it up-front and clearly. Current budget discussions suggest a growing leadership and accountability role for the jurisdictions in the many facets of public access; prioritizing pilot restoration projects; creating a Baywide network of water trails; developing locally supported, integrated watershed management plans; and identifying and engaging community organizations to become partners in the effort.
6. Stimulate and capitalize upon a new generation of non-traditional partners. When talking about engaging communities “up in the watershed,” you’re not only referring to citizen activists and organizations, but also their families: seniors, adults, youths and children. Establishing the capacity and readiness to channel the energy and enthusiastic stewardship ethic of these new partners requires flexibility, openness and innovation.
7. Relocate program administration to a midwatershed location to demonstrate in a meaningful way that it is indeed a new era. There is perhaps no stronger signal that reflects the new watershed focus than decentralizing the program administration in Annapolis — located on the Bay’s shoreline — and establishing a headquarters in a central location in the greater watershed where most of us work, live, commute, play and worship. There will be no better moment than this for acute refocusing by program administrators on their new mission, a predictable consequence that tends to follow the upheaval that results from moving to new quarters and starting fresh.
8. Celebrate both the successes to date and the new adventures that the future holds. The Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, unlike previous agreements, should speak to all of us as the critical crossroads document it is. The partnership’s premier and enduring future charter should proclaim its successes to date, acknowledge there’s more to be done and boldly break new ground in each of its goals and commitments, with a nod to continuing efforts. It should also do this succinctly in a couple of pages. Anything less fails to live up to the hallmark standards of the past.