Stories From the North at the 2019 WFOA Conference

By Joan Michaels Aguilar, 2019 CSMFO President

“The greatest gift of leadership is a boss who wants you to be successful”

– Jon Taffer –author and tv personality best known for his series Bar Rescue

These wise words were shared with me at the 2019 Washington Finance Officers Association (WFOA) conference. I was honored to accept from their President, Craig Warner, an invitation to attend our sister association’s conference from September 17 – 20 in Yakima, WA.

After landing in Yakima, I was picked up by an Uber driver, Angel, who drove me to my accommodations. On the way I was greeted with some liquid sunshine (aka rain) and an ironic twist. Angel told me that Yakima is known as the Palm Springs of the north. I thought he was pulling my leg, having some fun at the expense of the visitor from California. He insisted the area was popular with retirees, had a retro vibe, some fine wineries, and golf courses. So imagine my surprise when I found an online picture of “Welcome to Yakima – the Palm Springs of Washington”. A bit of synchronicity considering CSMFO had our successful 2019 conference at our own Palm Springs in January.

For the WFOA Conference, President Craig Warner and his team came up with a great baseball theme, Swing for the Fences. This lived up to this theme in how they welcomed all of the out-of-state guests with warm hospitality. Like CSFMO, they kicked off their conference with a Tuesday night appreciation dinner for leadership, held at a beautiful venue in Naches – Homestead Ranch. The conference schedule included two full days of sessions on Wednesday and Thursday and half-day on Friday. Keynote speaker, Ross Shafer kicked it off (yes, if that sounds familiar – he was the opener for our 2019 CSMFO conference on Wednesday too – and has spoken to WFOA at two other conferences).

The Wednesday welcome reception physically embodied their conference theme by inviting attendees to the Yakima County Baseball Stadium. Not only was there lots of baseball themed food and beverage, the attendees gathered together for a memorable photo by forming the letters W F O A. They held a great Wednesday night dinner at the Apple Tree Golf Course. Here I had the pleasure to spend time and get to know the WFOA President Elect Dale Hough (Finance Director, Lacey Fire District #3) and Teresa Sedmak, President from the Washington Treasurer’s Association (Treasurer, City of Tacoma).

The Thursday night banquet was first-rate, with more baseball souvenirs, a fantastic band, and a full dance floor. I had a ton of fun dancing with new friends like Forrest and Ron.

The WFOA education committee did a great job with the program and had the usual training tracks you would expect – budget, management, investment, and accounting, and a fun title that was unexpected, Fraud Fighting Friday! One of the most interesting things I learned was that the Washington State Auditor conducts all audits of public agencies, rather than external audit firms.

During the conference, I got to hang out with my other Presidential colleagues from the north, Joan Miller from Alaska and Kathy Leader from Oregon. Kathy even graciously invited me to present a session at the Oregon conference in March. I was also happy to reconnect with some CSMFO members. Some of you may remember Steve Groom, who was formerly with Beach Cities Health District and at one point had served on our Tech Committee and was active in CSMFO leadership until moving to Texas. His career now finds him in Washington in Yakima.

I want to conclude this month’s message with a reflection on their Friday keynote speaker, Jeff Havens who talked about how to “Unleash Your Inner Tyrant”. Jeff had all the attendees laughing with his super creative presentation in getting a message across about the “right” way to manage employees, to listen, and leadership in general. He asked us to focus on typical tyrant boss aspects and made it fun to exaggerate what you shouldn’t do in the workplace (such as bend others to your will, don’t learn your employees name, and make people scamper down the hall when they see you coming). His comedic approach kept the audience engaged and it was a fine way to close the conference. Now, I opened with a quote from his session, and will close with another quote – “Take your share of blame and give away your share of credit”.

Joan Michaels Aguilar is the Deputy City Manager-Admin Services for the City of Dixon.