The Welcome Pole

Abstract

The story of the Welcome Pole controversy at the Port of Olympia provides a window on effective public leadership, addressing such themes as management in an intercultural context, crisis management, boards and commissions, and public contracting. This case will allow participants to look at an instance where a smart and capable public manager, Nick Handy, found he was unable to rescue a situation. Although, the case does not show him in the best light, this was an exception in a notable government career. This case can sharpen the administrator's eye for cues and clues. Anticipating, and then second-guessing, the decisions of Nick Handy and the other actors is a part of the students' case preparation for the case discussion.

The case will permit participants to deal with an actual situation that seems resistant to plausible interventions. Some managers find it tempting to keep working at such a problem. Why did Mr. Handy persist? A long series of successful experiences did not prepare him for the situation that would not yield.

Case A takes the case from the early discussion by a civic group of acquiring a Salish carved pole (1996), to the apparent carver's arrest for shellfish poaching. The carver, Doug Tobin, had been involved in the murder-for-hire of a local Olympia, Washington woman, Mrs. Joann Jirovec, and family and friends of hers led the opposition to installing the Pole on Port of Olympia property. (A) closes with the question of what Mr. Handy should recommend to the Port Commission at their May 2002 meeting.

Case B begins with the decision to sell the Pole, describes the unsuccessful marketing effort, follows the steps to the appointment of a Blue Ribbon Panel and describes the division of opinion among the Panel. This part closes with the question of what the proponents and opponents of raising the Pole ought to be doing to prepare for the January 2004 Port Commission Meeting.

Case C describes the process that led the Port Commission to reject the majority recommendation and vote instead to not install the Welcome Pole. The Pole was sold and later donated to the Burke Museum of the University of Washington. Opposition followed the Pole to Seattle, and it remains warehoused out of public view.

The case authors published portions of this case in an article: "The Welcome Pole: Public Art, Process, and Controversy." Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Winter 2005) pp. 245-261.

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