In Focus: Keep Pasco's current form of government

October 18, 2013 

For those who have lived in Pasco for less than 50 years, I’m prompted to offer several reasons I am opposed to a mayor and council form of government to replace our current manager/council form.

When I arrived in Pasco in September, 1955, Pasco had a mayor elected to run the city government. He had a council, an elected clerk and an elected city attorney. It was a good-old-boy setup. The mayor was a local official with the Northern Pacific Railroad. The city substantially was run by the mayor and assisted by a council that was essentially limited to members of one or two fraternal organizations. The unannounced policies of the city included a ghetto east of the railroad tracks, and the refusal of the real estate firms to show blacks housing on the west side of the tracks.

Prior to World War II, there was only one family of blacks living on Road 20. With the advent of the Hanford Project, many blacks came to this area. They could not live in Kennewick, which had a policy of not allowing them to stay after sundown. I don’t know about Richland. When I came here, there were a few black families living there. Pasco’s ghetto essentially existed from Front Street on the west, just beyond Cedar on the east, as well as Lewis on the north and A Street on the south.

Within this area was an ongoing underground of bootlegging, prostitution, illegal gambling, strongarm robbery and assorted other crime. It was no secret to learn who the bootleggers were: just go to the Pasco State Liquor Store on Friday afternoon and see who was buying a case of pints of cheap blended whiskey. Keeping this activity in the ghetto kept it, for all practical purposes, in east Pasco. The good-old-boy government kept it that way. Oh sure, there were raids on the bootleggers with some regularity, but that was just the price of staying in business. There was another concern: The wife of one of the higher ranked officers was seen, on occasion, to purchase from one of the more infamous bootlegers; so I was advised by two of the policemen.

I became friends with some of the Pasco police officers who were members of the local rifle and pistol club. I used to ride along on Saturday nights in those early days and was pointed out the known areas of criminal activity. When the prosecuting attorney decided not to seek re-election, I was encouraged to run. I did, and no one else filed. I was elected in November and took office in January, 1963.

In February, I went to Olympia and had a conference with then- State Attorney General Johh O’Connell. He pledged his support and sent over his chief investigator to discuss the details. We met, and were joined by concerned Pasco police officers, who explained in depth their concerns. Four members of the attorney general’s team of investigators worked in the ghetto area from March through at least June. It was decided to put together a raid on Labor Day weekend, 1963, 50 years ago.

The raid went off with some of the Pasco officers, Sheriff Ted Harter and the members of the attorney general’s team. Too say the least, this upset the police chief, the mayor and some of the city council. Two of them were in on the scheme, including the acting mayor since the mayor fortuitously was out of town. This raid generated several trials in Superior Court and some appeals to the State Supreme Court, all successfully prosecuted. Soon the city council decided to bring in an outside investigator to determine whether changes should be made to the police department.

This went on for almost a year. During this time, members of the council, at least, discussed changing the form of government to a manager form. In 1964, Pasco adopted the city manager form of government.

That series of events didn’t clear up the ghetto right away; that essentially really got under way with city help after the federal Urban Renewal Law went into effect in 1968. Ever since, we have had the manager form of city government, Pasco has grown and overcome many problems that had accumulated from before 1960 or so. We have a responsive council and the manager obtains his marching orders from that organization which has the power to fire him. Those who have problems with city government should communicate with the elected council member in their area, or one of the members at large. The system only works when the council is advised by personal knowledge, city staff input or citizen concern.

I have lived in this fine city for 58 years and am delighted to stay. Nothing is perfect, but Pasco gets better as it goes along. We don’t need a strong mayor form, because in my experience, mayors have too much control over city government. I note that Benton City and other nearby cities and towns with strong mayor governments seemingly are in constant turmoil. Spokane has the same history in recent years. Let’s keep our manager form of government. It’s responsive and has a more than 40 years of success. When I came here, Pasco was just over 15,000 residents. Now it is more than 61,000. As the old saying goes, for more than 90 years: “Keep your eye on Pasco.”

Jim Rabideau is the former Franklin County prosecutor.

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