WALLA WALLA — On Tuesday, the people will come, the goodies will be consumed, and perhaps the accolades will be heard.
For Daryl Daugs, the ribbon-cutting at the newly filled and renamed Walla Walla County Community Service Center will be the frosting on a cake he’s been baking for 2 1/2 years.
After that, the executive director of Walla Walla County Department of Human Services will be ready to ride out of town, back to his family in Bremerton and a new job at Habitat for Humanity in Kitsap County.
About 18 months later than he’d originally planned.
Daugs explained it best in a June 11 letter — he coined it “Official Heads Up” — to Walla Walla County Board of Commissioners, in which he gave 30-day notice of his intentions.
In it, he noted he was originally hired to reorganize and restructure the department, improve human resource practices, develop sound fiscal policies and procedures, improve relationships with community partners, move all health records into electronic format and establish a community social service center.
Done. Done, done, done, done and done.
It was a big job, Daugs conceded. The county’s department of human services had fallen into a hole, in which dedicated staff with good ideas were under leadership not necessarily trained to run an organization.
“DHS here had a lot of structural background challenges that many governmental nonprofit agencies find themselves in,” he said.
Daugs first focused on turning around a staff that was fearful and not trusting of the higher-ups, stemming from “inconsistent” human resource practices.
“No one could figure out who to report to,” he said. “Employees had multiple supervisors, depending on what task they were working on. It wasn’t an ‘organizational tree’ but an ‘organizational bush.’”
His training in business management and nonprofit projects allowed Daugs to tend to those fires while those who practice mental health care could return to doing just that, he said. “I’m not a therapist. I’m not a social worker.”
Then there was the community perception of DHS, including a heightened sense of distrust, and even a hatred of government organizations, Daugs explained. “My perception was that it was long-standing.”
With the help of “incredibly dedicated” county employees, the director started the process of turning around a bloated battleship. Using what he termed “decisive leadership,” Daugs cut back office administrative positions, increased front line staff and expanded services.
He and his staff rebuilt the parameters of trust by keeping no secrets and making sure supervisors were listening to concerns and opinions.
The employees responded in kind — when the county’s budget forced countywide furlough days for 15 months, DHS staff came together to decide how those would look for that office, Daugs said, “so that everyone could stay employed.”
The physical space in the building on Kelly Place changed, as well. Prior to Daugs’ arrival, the “nicest” sections of the second-story office were used for administrations and client space was small, cramped and not very private, he explained.
Now clients enjoy a much-expanded waiting area that allows for access to several clerks, and the space where health business is conducted is respectful, Daugs said.
Administration business, on the other hand, occurs mostly in cubicles.
“We’re government workers,” he explained with a grin. “We should be in cubicles.”
Changes on the second floor means new life for the first floor. Starting in July, a number of social service agencies took up residency in space remodeled to fit each organization’s need.
Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, Helpline, Blue Mountain Action Council and Rising Sun Clubhouse will call 1520 Kelly Place home. The address is served by Valley Transit’s route No. 6 every half hour.
The goal was to make the building functional, inviting and conducive to collaboration, Daugs pointed out, adding that the new tenants often serve overlapping populations.
The Rising Sun space tickles the almost-former director the most. It offers an expansive patio, as many who use the clubhouse love being outdoors in every season, Daugs said. Inside, a well-supplied commercial kitchen will facilitate the free lunch Rising Sun members cook and consume every day.
“If there is one organization in this community that can make the biggest difference for people who are chronically mentally ill, it’s Rising Sun,” he said.
When Daugs heads west again, it will be to his wife of 28 years, Leslie. She stayed behind for her job with the Bremerton school district and a position on the City Council.
While the initial plan called for just 12 months of a long-distance relationship, the couple anticipated the separation would be hard, he said. “It turned out easier than we expected it to be ... we’re pretty good at being married. We kind of have it down.”
Still, both of them are ready to resume a more typical married life, he said with a smile.
County commissioners continue to mull direction for human services after Daugs has gone off into the sunset. One option is to combine human services with the public health department. That decision is likely to be made before the 2013 budgets for county departments are adopted in December.