City manager who saw Pasco triple in size to retire after 30 years

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJune 22, 2014 

PASCO -- Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Dust Devils' home opener last week.

But the woman who threw out the first pitch at the first game in 1995 said Crutchfield should have done it 19 years ago instead of her. Helping to bring professional baseball to the Tri-Cities was one of Crutchfield's many achievements.

"When I was running for (re-election), I took the credit," said Joyce Olson Mathews (formerly DeFelice), a city council member from 1989-95 and again from 2006-10. "I have to admit that Gary deserved the credit. He's never sought the limelight. He deserves all of it now."

Leading the city as it tripled in size, bringing in industrial development and reducing the crime rate are among the many accomplishments Crutchfield had a hand in, Mathews said. She said he might not take credit for the city's expansion, but Pasco will miss him after he retires this week after 30 years of leading the city government.

Changing the city's image

Crutchfield first came to work for Pasco in 1978, initially as a one-man planning department. He became interim city manager after Lee Kraft retired in August 1984, and was named to the job officially two months later.

Mathews, who moved to Pasco the same year Crutchfield did, said the city had a reputation as the "armpit of the Tri-Cities."

The first real estate agent Crutchfield talked to when looking for a home in Pasco wouldn't even take him to look at houses there.

"I said, 'Why not Pasco?' He said that's lower income with a poor school system and minorities,' " Crutchfield said. "That was my first taste of the way Pasco was viewed in the Tri-Cities."

That view hasn't completely gone away, but the perception of Pasco has changed dramatically, Crutchfield said.

The city has grown from a population of about 15,000 people to more than 65,000. Its boundaries have changed from an older area almost completely east of Highway 395, with a small bit of development west of the Tri-Cities Airport, to taking up most of the southern part of Franklin County, sprawling toward the Columbia River.

Webster Jackson, who worked for the city in several roles for nearly 35 years before retiring as administrative services director in 2006, said Crutchfield was quiet when he first began working for the city. But he grew into a leader.

"He was the captain of the ship from a staff standpoint," he said. "He's been a blessing for the city of Pasco."

Working together

Turning Pasco into a larger, safer and more financially sound city wasn't easy, Crutchfield said. In 1989, crime had risen to the third highest rate in the state, with 160 crimes per 1,000 residents. A tough economy led to lower property tax revenue, and that meant reduced services and layoffs.

"We were really having to cut the budget to survive," Crutchfield said.

Pasco was able to lower the crime rate to fewer than 30 crimes per 1,000 residents in the most recent reports.

Crutchfield credits programs such as community-oriented policing, where the police department established partnerships with other government agencies, businesses and community groups, as well as more than doubling the size of the police force to 73 officers with the help from a utility tax increase, with helping to improve crime rates.

"It's a real comprehensive team effort," he said. "It's been the county prosecutor's office over the years, the courts over the years."

The city was able to grow by extending city services to the western plateau. It also brought them north to create the 250-acre Pasco Processing Center, which helped fuel the city's tax base.

"That really instilled confidence in the community that we're making things happen, we just have to take good, calculated risks," he said.

Jim Toomey, who retired as the Port of Pasco's executive director last year, credited the Coordinated Roundtable for Economic and Trade Enhancement, or CREATE, meetings that Crutchfield suggested in the early 1990s with leading to the processing center. The group, which still meets monthly, includes the heads of the city and port, as well as the Franklin Public Utility District and the Pasco School District.

Crutchfield was able to show the school superintendent that industrial projects championed by the city, port and PUD would benefit schools as well, Toomey said.

"That collaborative effort has probably been one of the unsung activities that allowed it to prosper when retail sales were down, when property taxes were down," Toomey said. "That industrial growth was very good for the school district. Gary was the glue that kept it together."

The city slowly grew westward, dealing with friction along the way. Crutchfield's biggest disappointment is the process to incorporate the "doughnut hole" surrounded by west Pasco, which has taken more than 20 years, and still is not complete.

He hopes the city council and incoming City Manager Dave Zabell will complete the task of bringing in two remaining unincorporated sections.

"You're just going to have to push the issue of incorporation of that area," he said. "Any taxpayers that look at the cost of the county to have to serve two little holes down there ... it's just foolish."

Annexation opponents not only fought to undo recent annexations that brought 1,400 people into Pasco, they put a proposition on the November 2013 ballot that would have eliminated Crutchfield's job and created a strong mayor system in Pasco. But voters rejected both proposals.

Crutchfield didn't mind if his actions drew the wrath of some people, as long as it benefited the city, Toomey said.

"He was more than willing to be the lightning rod for some of the naysayers in the community," he said.

Mathews, who served a total of 10 years as mayor before resigning in 2010 to move to Virginia, said Crutchfield should write the history of modern Pasco, because he was involved with so much of it. That includes helping to build the baseball stadium (and finding a team to play in it) to completing the riverfront trail to moving city hall from a cramped space on Clark Street to a renovated school building that had been sitting vacant for a decade.

"He is the common denominator over all the things that happened," she said. "He has never stepped out and gotten the credit."

And he did it without wasting money, she said.

"He is very astute with the red pen and numbers and budgeting," she said. "I can't think of one problem we undertook where we went back to Gary and said, 'It was a stupid idea. What were you thinking?' "

Crutchfield credits good city councils with making the decisions.

"There's a lot of things that I look around and say, 'It's cool to have been a part of that,' " he said.

Looking ahead

Crutchfield, 65, looks forward to taking longer vacations and spending more time with his family. He will miss the challenge of solving the problems facing the community the most, he said.

"I find I enjoy that, although some are a little more challenging than others," he said.

He will not miss constantly thinking about work.

"You don't just leave it here at the office, it's with you all the time," he said. "It will be good to let go of that. It will certainly be good for my family to let go of that."

Along with completing annexation, Crutchfield sees improving downtown as an important activity for Zabell and the council. He said the Hispanic flavor of downtown is a positive because it allows the area to draw the people who live in nearby neighborhoods. The city just needs to capitalize on it.

"I could see people drawn from Walla Walla, Hermiston, Othello to purchase goods and services of Hispanic culture that they can't find elsewhere," he said. "It becomes almost like a Hispanic mall without a roof. It's a great opportunity to become a cultural focal point."

The city also will need to continue to build its industrial development, which will allow it to add tax revenue without necessarily continuing to add so many residents.

"We have to have a better balance within our tax base," he said.

Zabell will have big shoes to fill, said Councilman Mike Garrison, who has worked with Crutchfield for 26 years.

"I believe that we never could have had a better manager than Gary," Garrison said. "I think he has been the most thoughtful individual we could have had. He's been right on the money 99.9 percent of the time."

A public reception for Crutchfield takes place between 5 and 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Pasco Red Lion Hotel, 2525 N. 20th Ave.

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