PASCO -- Around 60 people got a chance to mingle Wednesday evening with the four finalists to be Pasco's next city manager.
Former North Las Vegas City Manager Tim Hacker, Battle Ground City Manager John Williams, Fife City Manager Dave Zabell and Flathead County (Mont.) Administrator Michael Pence each briefly addressed an audience of city employees, community leaders and other residents at the Pasco Red Lion Hotel.
Wednesday was the first of two days in Pasco for the men, who are vying to replace longtime City Manager Gary Crutchfield.
A fifth candidate, Scott Morgan, former administrative services director for Rancho Mirage, Calif., withdrew before the meeting.
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Hacker was attracted to the area by its warm climate and good fishing, he said. After two relatively brief runs as manager of Las Vegas suburbs, he likes that Pasco reminds him of his Iowa agricultural roots.
"I'd like to get back to a community that has more than 40 years of history," he said.
Williams comes from a city of 20,000 residents that, like Pasco, provides services outside the city limits.
"Obviously, having a city manager here for 30 years, there's stability in the community, as well as challenges and opportunities," he said.
Zabell, who previously served as deputy city manager in Yakima, said he is ready to get back to a larger community than Fife, which has fewer than 10,000 residents. He has been riding his bicycle for a couple of weeks around Pasco to get to know residents
"One of the things that's really struck me in this community that I think is an actual great positive is, 'This is what we're doing,' is what I hear a lot," he said. "Its not 'What they're doing ... .' That's a good message. It means that the city is doing their job in terms of communications."
Pence, who oversees government in a county of 90,000 residents, was most proud of the time he worked with the Quinault Indian Nation on the Washington coast. That showed he can work with diverse groups, such as Pasco's Hispanic community, he said.
"I look forward to being involved with the whole community, doing everything we can to make the community even better," said Pence, who also served as city manager in Ocean Shores.
Attendees at the reception were asked to fill out forms with their likes and concerns about each candidate.
Pasco School District Superintendent Saundra Hill, who will be part of a group of community leaders meeting with the candidates today, said she will look for someone who is the best fit for the city.
"I'm hoping we have someone who wants to be in Pasco -- not just because of our weather," Hill told the Herald. "I want someone who is interested in us as people and cares about the community."
Toni Zunker, Crutchfield's assistant for 15 years, said the event made her look forward to Pasco's future.
"I'd like to see somebody who's going to keep taking the city in new directions," she said. "It's an exciting time."
The city council will interview the candidates all day today in closed session. Mayor Matt Watkins said they could reach a consensus as soon as this afternoon, but a vote is not expected until the successful candidate agrees to the job.
"We're going to take time to deliberate on this," he said. "It's a very important decision."