When downtown Pasco officials discovered last month that thousands was missing from bank accounts and bills had gone unpaid, they quickly canceled the annual Christmas tree lighting at Peanuts Park.
Business owners and community members weren’t happy to see the holiday event removed from the calendar.
The Downtown Pasco Development Authority then realized that instead of letting the alleged embezzlement defeat them, it should be a catalyst to bring everyone together and celebrate “One Pasco.”
That is the theme of the reinstated event, scheduled Dec. 12 starting at 5:30 p.m.
“(People) were coming in saying, ‘This is Christmas. We’ve got to keep Christmas,’” said Mike Miller, the organization’s board president. “Even when we’re down, we’re still moving forward, and that’s probably the message we should be concentrating on.”
The authority — which is partially funded with taxpayer dollars — is collaborating with a number of community groups on the third annual event.
The original event had been planned for Dec. 11. When coordinators withdrew the cancellation, they decided to push it back a day to give them extra time for planning.
Martin Valadez, board member and event coordinator, said a few hundred people attended last year despite the bitter cold. Reflecting on that interest and success, the group knew it had to attempt to organize the event and “make really sweet lemonade out of this situation,” he said.
“We wanted to keep the positive things going that are happening in Pasco,” said Valadez, who came up with the idea to make it a community partnership event. “I’m just so happy that so many people really are excited about continuing this tradition and excited about helping in any way they can.”
The event will include speeches from community leaders, along with performances by dance groups and choirs. The tree-lighting ceremony should happen about 6:30 or 7 p.m.
We’re going to make that event a success. Our downtown folks are very excited about moving forward with it.
Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell
The Downtown Pasco Development Authority will provide hot chocolate, and is trying to bring in a few food trucks to give people snack or dinner options.
Miller acknowledged that his “head was in the muck” after learning about the missing money and the ensuing days of dealing with police, the state, the Internal Revenue Service and the media.
Michael Goins, the organization’s executive director for almost 2 1/2 years, has been charged with first-degree theft on allegations he pocketed at least $90,000.
Miller said board members weren’t sure they wanted to take on new expenses when they didn’t know what money the organization had in the first place.
Then others helped Miller to understand that Christmas is still coming and the downtown group should get in on the holiday spirit, instead of letting it go by. The board has received tremendous support to make it happen, he said.
Collaborators include the city of Pasco, the Pasco and Tri-Cities Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, New Horizons High School, the Pasco School District, Consejo Latino, the Tri-Cities council of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Franklin PUD and the Pasco office of American Family Insurance.
Earlier this week, City Manager Dave Zabell told council members it was “disappointing news” about Goins, but he was proud to have been part of the meeting in which it was decided to push on.
“We’re going to make that event a success,” Zabell said. “Our downtown folks are very excited about moving forward with it.”