Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield will have a number of successes to point to when he retires in June after 30 years leading the city.
He’s retiring a month after his 65th birthday. Crutchfield’s oldest child is about to graduate from high school, and he told the Herald he wanted his wife to get out of the “fish bowl” of public life.
“It looked like a good year to do that, it seemed like summer would be a good time,” Crutchfield said. “We wanted to have time to take off without worrying about the next meeting or what the next day might bring.”
Pasco has grown from a population of 17,000 to more than 65,000 residents in his time with the city.
At the same time, the Franklin County community saw its crime rate plunge from 160 crimes per 1,000 residents a year in the late ’80s to about 30 per 1,000 now. He credits the city council raising utility taxes to pay for more police officers, along with a community-oriented policing program, for that improvement.
But Crutchfield said the key change started with improving the perception of Pasco. That began when he pitched the idea for the Pasco Processing Center to officials with the Port of Pasco and the Franklin Public Utility District.
The city built a water reuse facility to treat water at the 250-acre site to make it more attractive to food processors. The port extended streets and sewer, water and rail services to the business park off Highway 395. It got its first tenant, JR Simplot’s frozen vegetable processing plant, in 1995. The project took six years to complete, but it was important, Crutchfield said.
“When we proved it could be done, it was off to the races,” he said. “That’s when all the other things became reality.”
Some popular public projects that came to fruition during his tenure include a rivershore trail along the Pasco side of the Columbia River and a baseball park that eventually landed the Tri-City Dust Devils team. The complex also brought youth baseball and soccer fields.
There also have been challenges. Most recently last year when a proposition was placed on the ballot that would have changed Pasco to a strong mayor-led government from its current council-manager system. Voters rejected the change.
Crutchfield has been with the city since 1978, when he started as community development director. He became city manager in 1984.
Some ideas, such as converting the former Pasco High School into City Hall, took several tries to get through, he said.
“Sometimes an idea’s premature. You put it on the back burner,” he said.
Mayor Matt Watkins said Crutchfield was able to deal with the growth by increasing services while keeping costs to taxpayers down.
“I have the highest praise for Gary on a professional and personal level,” Watkins said. “To be a good quality public servant is, in my opinion, the highest praise you can offer, and he has done that tremendously well.”
Councilman Mike Garrison has been on the council for 26 years, serving with Crutchfield longer than anyone.
“I don’t think I’ve worked with anyone who is as intelligent and can analyze a situation and make a recommendation to council as well as he can,” Garrison said.
Crutchfield had told council members in the past that he was considering retiring in a year or two. But Watkins said the announcement still came as a surprise.
“That was a year or two or three or four ago,” he said.
Crutchfield estimated that finding his replacement will take five to six months. Crutchfield’s annual salary is about $161,000.
Watkins said Crutchfield has set up a good succession system by hiring an assistant city manager. Candidates from inside and outside city government are expected to apply.
“We’re going to be looking for somebody who is able to help a city with 66,000 people and decent finances, but can also look at what’s best for 20 years down the road,” Watkins said.
The search is the second Watkins is now involved with. He chairs the board for Ben Franklin Transit, which has received more than 30 applications to replace former General Manager Tim Fredrickson, who resigned in December.
Crutchfield said the new city manager should have fewer challenges than when he took the job.
“We’ve created a good, solid foundation for the future,” he said. “The infrastructure for growth is mostly in place.”
Crutchfield came from the Seattle area but said he’s been able to stay around in Pasco so long because people identified with him.
“The personality of a manager has a lot to do with the personality of the community,” he said. “Pasco is largely a blue-collar community. I grew up in a construction family. I have that kind of middle class perspective. I’ve been fortunate to have, by and large, progressive council members who do want to make a difference in the community.”
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom