Dave Zabell had only been Pasco's city manager for a day, but people already wanted answers on several issues.
Zabell, 56, made his first public appearance Tuesday before a community group at the League of Women Voters of Benton and Franklin Counties annual Equality Day picnic at Chiawana Park in west Pasco.
He told the audience of 35 people about his experience working in the city governments in Marysville, Bothell, Yakima and Fife, where he came after being city manager the past three years. Zabell, who started his job Monday, then took questions about issues facing the city.
Bringing the city together is among his priorities, he said.
"East Pasco, west Pasco, old Pasco, new Pasco is a particularly exciting challenge," he said. "(All) areas want to do something about it. They see it as an issue and want to make it one Pasco."
Zabell, who has been in city government for 34 years, sees improving the downtown area as an exciting task. He said he worked to redesign the city center in Bothell when he was there.
"It has a theme now, but it's not at the point where it could be a tourist attraction," he said of downtown Pasco. "A little bit of work by the property owners and the community and this could be one of the most unique downtowns in the Pacific Northwest."
Zabell admitted that the $4,700 impact fee charged by the Pasco School District to developers of new homes is among the highest he has seen.
"One of the reasons it's so high is because we're so far behind," he said. "It does us no good as a community if we have a lot of growth and don't have the infrastructure, including schools, to take care of it."
One topic Zabell tried to sidestep was the increasing numbers of coal trains that could be coming through town on the way to terminals near the coast, where the coal would be transferred to ships bound for Asia.
"He's one of my favorite jazz musicians," said Zabell, deflecting the question with humor, referring to jazz musician John Coltrane. He did say that the coal train issue came up in Fife, which is near the Port of Tacoma.
Zabell initially didn't apply for the Pasco city manager position, but was recruited by a consultant the city hired to assist with the search, he said.
"I went into the interview saying what I thought, because I was happy to go back to Fife," he said. "I guess they liked what they heard."
Tuesday's event celebrated the 94th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. League of Women Voters President Marilyn Perkins noted that there are increasing numbers of women serving in Congress and the state Legislature, but said there are only two women on the city councils in the Tri-Cities.
Pasco Mayor Pro-Tem Rebecca Francik, one of the two, said she wanted to search beyond white men while looking for a replacement for longtime City Manager Gary Crutchfield, but no women were available.
"They tend to stay in the assistant city manager level because they are raising and caring for children," Francik said. "There just were no candidates who were qualified who applied."
The 60-member League of Women Voters chapter has played host to the annual picnic for about 60 years, said first Vice President Shari Gasperino. The event has been held at parks in Kennewick and Richland, but members were excited for the chance to have it with the new Pasco city manager this year.
"This is a good opportunity for us to not only have a celebration of the 19th Amendment, but also for people who are not involved in the League of Women Voters to learn a little bit more and become a member," she said.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; email@example.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom