Pasco's new city manager has already been getting to know the city, riding his bicycle around town and meeting residents before he was hired June 16.
Now he is ready to get to work.
Dave Zabell, 56, plans to take part in several meetings today, including tonight's city council meeting on his first day on the job.
Zabell, who has been in city government more than 30 years, has been traveling back and forth between Pasco and Fife, where he became city manager in 2011, since he was hired.
He and his wife plan to close on a house next week, but he will have to stay in a hotel until then, he said. They've selected a home not far from the riverfront trail, giving him a place to ride his bike.
"I wanted to invest in Pasco as quickly as I could," he said told the Herald this week.
Along with biking 50 to 60 miles a week, Zabell said he is a U.S. history buff. He said he looks forward to exploring some of the Lewis and Clark-related sites in the area.
The position in Pasco was one of only a few in Washington that could have drawn Zabell away from Fife, a city of just over 9,000 residents north of Tacoma, he said.
"I'm anxious to walk in the door my first day," he said. "It's a large vibrant city with a lot of things going on."
Pasco Mayor Pro-Tem Rebecca Francik is ready for Zabell to start and help the council reach the city's goals, she said.
"I'm hoping he will step right in and we will sail smoothly through the transition," she said.
From Fife to Pasco
Zabell finished up his old job Aug. 12. "I spent a pretty interesting six weeks in Fife, trying to tie up as many loose ends as I could," he said.
Fife Police Chief Brad Blackburn resigned, with several unanswered questions. Then a whistleblower filed a lawsuit, claiming the city retaliated against him for exposing illegal activities in the police department. Zabell has declined to talk about the lawsuit, but said there was no retaliation.
Then Fife took the statewide spotlight when state Attorney General Bob Ferguson got involved in a lawsuit in which two prospective marijuana retailers challenged Fife's ban on pot-related businesses. His office maintained that it will defend the city's right to ban marijuana businesses, but said it would fight Fife's claim that the law is invalid because it conflicts with federal law. Ferguson said such a position could jeopardize the law legalizing marijuana in Washington.
Pasco made similar claims to Fife's when its city council banned recreational and medical marijuana businesses in the city limits on July 21.
Zabell will work to implement whatever policy the city council wants on the issue, he said.
"It's inconsistent with federal law," he said. "That's a bigger (issue) that has the attention of the ACLU and others. Until the feds do something, that's going to be a juxtaposition."
An experienced manager
Zabell was in the Navy from 1976-79, serving aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. He went on to get a public administration degree from Upper Iowa University and a master's from the University of Washington.
He worked in Marysville from 1985 to 2000, starting as traffic signal technician in a town with six stoplights, as well as a couple flashing signals.
"I got bored by Tuesday," he recalled. "I started working on asphalt, paving and installing sewer systems for them. I got into engineering and then into public works management."
Zabell eventually worked his way up to city administrator in Marysville, a position he held for eight years. He said the city grew from 5,000 to 33,000 during his time there, experience that will help him in Pasco.
"I do have a little experience in a high-growth situation, maintaining and bringing the level of services up," he said.
Zabell eventually became assistant city manager in Yakima, leaving in 2011 for the job in Fife, a city of just over 9,000 residents north of Tacoma.
Zabell does not expect to be heavily involved in Pasco's public works system, despite his background.
"It looks like we have a really top notch public works leadership, and public works crew," he said. "I certainly want to know what's going on, but I don't plan on getting involved with day-to-day decisions."
Getting to know Pasco
Zabell is already familiarizing himself with the issues in Pasco, such as Road 68 congestion and developing property that the state Department of Natural Resources is being forced to let go of.
He also sees improving Pasco's downtown as a priority. He said Michael Goins, executive director of the Downtown Pasco Development Authority, was among the first people he talked to in town.
"That's an incredible opportunity for the community," he said. "The energy down there and the potential is very exciting."
Zabell is thankful for the work former City Manager Gary Crutchfield did in 30 years leading the city government.
"To replace someone like that, who left the organization in the condition he has for me, is a real leg up," he said.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom