by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & ormerly the city's director of economic development, John Pilcher became Spokane's chief operating officer in the wake of Jack Lynch's firing. Last week, the city threw a party to welcome him to his new post. We sat down with him beforehand.
You've been with the city for just over two years now. What have you done for us lately?
We built a strategic plan that included Building Services and all the other parts of that organization and involved the whole team in defining a direction. A part of that was the preparatory work on Kendall Yards and the University District.
We also were successful in getting a permit system under contract to deliver new technology. It's a major investment ... that's supported only by the permit users. [Right now] we're using technology [that's] in the dark ages. It adds to a lot of wasted time on our customers and citizens' standpoint.
Our building inspectors did around 35,000 inspections last year. And there are about 20 of them. Under the old system, they would go out with a piece of paper and the address and a cell phone ... [and] come back at the end of the day and transcribe those into a shared computer. It would hold up the follow-up on these permits. As a part of this new permit system, [they've] been issued rugged laptops. [Now] they're out there able to enter in live data that goes into the new system. Instantaneous. If we're doing 35,000 inspections and you saved a couple minutes on each one, you're saving a lot of time.
You've been hired at a time of wild media scrutiny. You wanna just admit now that you're, say, a meth addict?
Yeah (laughs), not aware of any of those things. Yeah.
But seriously, how do you deal with the scrutiny?
I'm sure we'll make mistakes ... we have to have a thick skin and do our jobs and take some risks. I think you just have to be willing to take your lumps and keep in mind that it's a bigger goal you're shooting for.
How's morale at City Hall?
People in this organization are very, very busy. Nobody's sittin' around twiddling their thumbs or playing Solitaire on the computer. I can tell ya -- at least in my work experience in past jobs -- that wasn't always the case. Now, I'm not sure we're always as efficient or focused or using the best resources, so while we're busy, why not be as effective as possible?
I would say there's [also] a disappointment in the organization from the standpoint of some of the scandals. I have to say that when I got hired by Jim West, I was inspired by him. [But] when the scandal broke, I was extremely disappointed and actually somewhat embarrassed to be working here. That impacts the employees.
I've seen organizations where a leader tries to tell the organization what to do. You know, "here's a list of things to go work on." That's the last way you get something done. And I have to say with all due respect to Jim West, who was changing the organization, he was operating as a very autocratic leader and kind of managing out of fear a little bit. He was making a difference, but I don't think it was sustainable. And the way to sustain change is to have it be embedded in the culture.