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Lessons Learned with the William D. Ruckelshaus Center | Recap – October BDA Breakfast

October 23, 2019 - by Mason Luvera, BDA Communications Manager

Category What's Happening


Lessons Learned with the William D. Ruckelshaus Center | Recap – October BDA Breakfast


With “solving our region's biggest challenges” in the title, October’s BDA Breakfast carried quite a bit of heft. But that’s also what made the morning so compelling: we heard from an all-star panel of Washington leaders on how we can begin to do just that – all through collaboration and proactive policy.

This month’s Breakfast was done in partnership with the William D. Ruckelshaus Center; a collaborative of policy, civic and business experts affiliated with Washington State University and the University of Washington. The center’s namesake, William D. Ruckelshaus, was the first head of the US Environmental Protection Agency and later served as the Acting Director of the FBI and Deputy Attorney General of the United States – today, he serves as the chair of the Center’s advisory board. The center is a regional powerhouse; helping shape state-wide policy and pumping out critical research and reports – it was recently recruited by the Washington State Legislature to provide a roadmap to evaluating Washington’s Growth Management Act, for example. When the opportunity arose to partner with the center and bring these leaders to Bellevue, we jumped at the chance.


Our panel was a striking mix of six influential leaders in our state, and was moderated by our very own Tony Williams, BDA Board Member and Partner and Chairman for W2A, a Bellevue-based issue management company.  We heard from:

  • Betsy Cowles, Chair of the Cowles Company
  • Bob Drewel, the Advisory Board Chair-Elect of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center
  • Michael Gaffney, Acting Director of the WSU Division of Governmental Studies & Services
  • Hon. Slade Gorton, Former US Senator and longtime Washingtonian
  • Michael Kern, the Director of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center
  • Hon. Ralph Munro, former Washington Secretary of State

Now, even if you’re not a policy-pro like our panelists, you were certain to take away some ground-level advice on how we - as urban leaders and community members - can start to tackle the challenges of our region’s future. Each member shared their wisdom on how collaborative governance (where government, private and community sectors partner) and public-private problem solving aren’t only possible, but can help move forward solutions to even the most looming and complex issues.

While the discussion was lively throughout the breakfast, our panelists’ closing remarks really lit up the room. Here are a few bits of advice they left the audience with:

Hon. Ralph Munro shared his most basic priority when trying to tackle a complex issue; to keep all people together and to work up, slowly if needed, to collaborative relationships. With those in place, he shared, you can then address the problem from top-to-bottom. Betsy Cowles shared the importance of having grace in one’s engagement. Her recommendation? To always approach problem solving with patience and to personally engage in a way that’s authentic to the cause.

Michael Kern expanded on Munro’s advice, reflecting on the Center’s work with the State Legislature to examine the Growth Management Act. He mentioned that one of the critical points his team learned when tackling issues related to growth isn’t to ask “is the plan good or bad” but to instead ask “what has changed since the plan was developed” alongside “what changes are needed to respond to today’s environment?”

It wasn’t all stern advice, either. Our panelists didn’t miss the opportunity to remind our attendees of the value in remaining humble and approachable. The most popular example was easily Hon. Slade Gorton’s crisp political one-liner earning him many laughs from the audience; “you never learn anything while you’re talking.”

Hearing from these experts provided a great opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we collaborate when tackling issues of growth, transportation, housing and development. But most importantly, the audience was reminded that these things are, indeed, solvable – it just takes the right mindset and strategies to get it done together.


Anyone interested in learning more about the William D. Ruckelshaus Center can check out their website and can find more information about their work on Washington’s Growth Management Act through the Center’s report executive summary.

Ready to join us for next month’s BDA Breakfast?  Keep up to date with us on our website or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.