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HomeOpinionDouble down on homelessness authority’s founding principles and update CEO’s job description

Double down on homelessness authority’s founding principles and update CEO’s job description




In management circles, it’s known as Founders Syndrome — the passion and creativity of someone who leads an organization in the early stages ultimately becomes a limiting or destructive factor, creating a wide range of problems.

What happened with the inaugural CEO of the King County Regional Homeless Authority could be Exhibit A.

Going forward, the RHA needs a different kind of boss to tackle the same mission.

Marc Dones announced their sudden resignation last week from the two-year-old authority, which is charged with leading the region’s response to homelessness.

Described in a Times story as a “Midwestern policy wonk, researcher and racial justice advocate,” Dones became CEO after the first choice for the job, Regina Cannon of Atlanta, turned it down.

“What if I am the smartest person in the room?” Dones told The Times in 2021. “And what if that’s OK?”

Humility was not a strong suit. Dones unquestionably possessed charisma and energy and intelligence that got people believing homelessness was not an intractable, unsolvable problem. But ultimately, the details suffered and Dones was unable or unwilling to bring in strong people who could make up for their shortcomings.

This is a good time to reassess the RHA’s leadership and organizational structure. But its founding principles — that contracts with service providers should be uniform and streamlined, and that homelessness is a regional challenge that necessitates a regional response — remain true.

RHA governance isn’t easy to understand. The 11-member Governing Committee includes elected officials and people with lived experience of homelessness. It provides high-level guidance and oversight, approves the budget and hires, fires and reviews the performance of the CEO.

The 13-member Implementation Board includes people with experience in housing, health and homelessness. The Implementation Board provides goal-setting and oversight similar to a board of directors.

Conflicting personalities and policies made for gridlock. In their resignation letter, Dones said: “The Implementation Board was charged with a critical oversight and partnership role, however over the last two years that has not been possible.”

A spokesperson for the RHA said the entities will work together with key partners to launch a search for the next CEO.

Here’s what The Times editorial board would like in a job description. The top leader should possess the skills of an attorney, able to oversee contracts that protect taxpayers and enforce accountability with service providers. Equally, this person should be versed in accounting, understanding where the money goes and how it’s spent.

Political instincts are a must to navigate the complex set of egos and stakeholders. The region would benefit from a leader with less charisma and more stamina — Dones’ two years on the job is simply not enough to warrant any kind of grade other than “incomplete.”

To be sure, Dones oversaw successes that can be built upon. Regionalism is still a worthy goal — five North King County city councils voted to pool their funding and sign an agreement with the RHA to better coordinate homelessness responses. More cities will likely join — and should. Businesses and philanthropy continue to financially support an effort to reduce the number of people living unsheltered downtown.

As a visionary, Dones showed the region what is possible. Now, a new leader must put more points on the board. It may be less attention-grabbing, but it’s how you win the game.

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