Pasco gains new ally at state Capitol

OLYMPIA — Pasco acquired a new ally in Olympia when Gov. Chris Gregoire’s recently retired chief of staff joined the lobbying firm representing the city at the state Capitol.

Cindy Zehnder started work last week as a vice president at Gordon Thomas Honeywell Government Affairs, a Seattle-based firm that has represented Benton County and West Richland at the federal level, and the city of Pasco at the state Legislature in Olympia.

The firm has helped the city get state money for the Court Street pedestrian bridge and the Ainsworth Avenue overpass, and is working to secure federal funding for the Lewis Street overpass, which is expected to need about $25 million in state and federal money, said City Manager Gary Crutchfield.

Zehnder will head Gordon Thomas Honeywell’s Washington State Governmental Affairs Division, which will include working with Pasco’s lobbyist Briahna Taylor to advance the city’s interests.

She said the item at the top of her list is getting legislation allowing the creation of regional public facilities districts tweaked so the Tri-Cities can move forward with a regional project, such as an aquatic center.

The legislation was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gregoire in 2009, but the bill had some technical errors that have to be fixed in the 2010 session. Zehnder said she doesn’t foresee any problems getting the bill corrected.

Crutchfield said once the law is fixed, he expects Pasco, Kennewick and Richland will start hammering out an interlocal agreement to create the district, which would allow the three cities to come together under one taxing authority to build a project none of them could afford individually.

But the timeline will depend on decisions made by the Regional Facilities Oversight Committee, a group made up of representatives from throughout the Tri-Cities with the task of selecting and planning a regional project.

Crutchfield said the city has had a fruitful relationship with Gordon Thomas Honeywell, and that Zehnder’s background in the governor’s office and the Legislature is a welcome addition.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to talk to Cindy about our projects,” he said.

Zehnder served as Gregoire’s chief of staff from 2007 until 2009. She announced her retirement in August and was replaced by former Department of Ecology head Jay Manning in October.

Prior to working with Gregoire, Zehnder was CEO of the TVW public affairs network, chief clerk of the state House of Representatives and a regent for the University of Washington.

She also served on Washington State University Tri-Cities’ Advisory Council.

* Michelle Dupler: 360-753-0862; mdupler@tricityherald.com