Hispanic Pasco residents disappointed with access to city manager candidates

By Geoff Folsom Tri-City HeraldJune 7, 2014 

Some Hispanic Pasco residents are disappointed with access they are getting to the city manager candidates visiting town next week.

In an email exchange with Mayor Matt Watkins, Felix Vargas, a farm labor advocate and retired diplomat, asked that Hispanic leaders be able to meet with the five candidates when they are in town Wednesday and Thursday.

"Given the majority presence of Hispanics in our city, it is only fitting that the Hispanic community have an opportunity to meet separately with the candidates and 'to get to know them,' " Vargas wrote.

In response, Watkins encouraged Vargas to attend a public reception for the candidates Wednesday at the Red Lion Hotel. A meeting between the candidates and representatives from stakeholder groups such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Pasco Development Authority is also planned, he said.

Watkins added that, after hearing Vargas' concerns, he would add state Commission on Hispanic Affairs member Ricardo Espinoza of Pasco to the group meeting with the candidates.

"On balance, I think the current plan and stacked two-day council-approved schedule includes more than ample opportunity for the public to be included in the process, and to provide critical feedback to the seven elected council members that will make the ultimate decision," Watkins wrote.

Espinoza also had concerns with the candidates and the access the Hispanic community would get. Espinoza had told Vargas in an email that he was surprised there were no candidates with Hispanic last names in the final group.

Espinoza told the Herald that he was concerned about the process for the selection of the candidates, which was done with the help of the Prothman Company of Issaquah.

"Is the process open?" he asked. "Is it fair? Is it engaging the community?"

The council did consider a Hispanic candidate, but determined that his qualifications were not up to those of the five who were selected, Watkins told the Herald. Overall, he said, there were few Hispanic names among the 22 applicants.

The most important factor for a city manager search is finding someone who can lead 300 employees and handle a yearly budget of more than $140 million, Watkins said.

"Cities have lots of constituents, and any city manager we choose needs to work with the entire community," he said.

The five candidates are Timothy Hacker, former city manager of North Las Vegas, Nev.; Scott Morgan, former administrative services director of Rancho Mirage, Calif.; Michael Pence, county administrator of Flathead County, Mont.; John Williams, city manager of Battle Ground; and Dave Zabell, city manager of Fife.

The city hopes to have a replacement named by the time City Manager Gary Crutchfield steps down June 27, though he might not start for more than a month after that.

Espinoza, a former Pasco School Board member, wants to ask the candidates about working with minority communities, including whether they have developed diversity plans, he said.

"If they don't have that in their communities, is Pasco a good fit for them?" he said.

He also wants to know what priority city manager candidates will put on revitalizing downtown, including getting state and federal funding for a Lewis Street railroad overpass to replace an aging underpass cars now go through.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to start a business and Lewis Street is shut down," Espinoza said. "It's important for Lewis Street to happen as soon as possible."

Espinoza would have preferred to meet with the city manager candidates as part of a group of Hispanic leaders. Gov. Jay Inslee had a productive meeting with 25 Hispanic leaders when he was in the area last week, and the candidates could have done the same, he said.

"I didn't think there was an elected body anywhere that has a problem with too many people participating," Espinoza said.

But Watkins talked with city attorneys, who told him that meeting with representatives from one group would have required the candidates to meet with any group that wanted to talk with them, he said.

"Doing that isn't very doable or wise, in my opinion," Watkins said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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