Our Voice: Gary Crutchfield's hand evident in Pasco's past and future

It would be difficult to find someone who has had a greater impact on the city of Pasco than Gary Crutchfield.

As city manager for 30 years, Crutchfield has guided the city through a tremendous time of change and growth as Pasco tripled in size.

Where farms once stood, a thriving retail corridor has emerged. Fields and sagebrush have been transformed into housing developments. Nearby athletic fields bring hundreds of visitors on most weekends.

When Crutchfield moved to town in 1978, a real estate agent tried to steer him across the river and out of Pasco. While the negative connotations haven't completely gone away, Pasco has transformed under Crutchfield's watch.

When he started, Pasco was mostly east of Highway 395. Now it takes up most of southern Franklin County to the Columbia River.

Traffic on Road 68 and Road 100 was almost exclusively limited to farmers' vehicles. Now the roads are popular Pasco exits where much of the growth has taken place and familiar to most Mid-Columbia drivers.

And more is coming.

The population when Crutchfield arrived was about 15,000. Today, more than 65,000 people call Pasco home, many of them living in the more recently developed western part of the city where horse pastures were once commonplace.

And even though the city has grown, the crime rate has been reduced to fewer than 30 crimes per 1,000 residents. Just 15 years ago, Pasco had the third highest crime rate in the state with 160 crimes per 1,000.

Doubling the size of the police force, using assistance from a utility tax increase, as well as police partnerships with other government agencies and help from businesses and community groups deserve the credit for creating the improvements, Crutchfield said.

Increasing the city's industrial development is another of Crutchfield's legacies. The 250-acre Pasco Processing Center helped fuel the city's tax base at a time when additional resources were desperately needed. Crutchfield is also known for his budgeting skills.

Crutchfield suggested the Coordinated Roundtable for Economic and Trade Enhancement group in the 1990s, which led to the development of the processing center. That group, known by the acronym CREATE, includes the managers of the city and the port, the Franklin Public Utility District and the Pasco School District and still meets today.

"That collaborative effort has probably been one of the unsung activities that allowed it to prosper when retail sales were down, when property taxes were down," said Jim Toomey, the recently retired Port of Pasco's executive director. "The industrial growth was very good for the school district. Gary was the glue that kept it together."

For all the accomplishments under Crutchfield's tenure, he still has a few disappointments. The biggest is the length of time it has taken to incorporate the "doughnut hole" surrounded by west Pasco. After 20 years, it's still not done. Crutchfield will leave the task to the city council and the new manager to finish.

As the annexation process proved, not everyone is a fan of Crutchfield's leadership. "He was more than willing to be the lightning rod for some of the naysayers in the community," Toomey said.

In this day and age, it's rare for a city manager to last three decades.

That Crutchfield leaves the city in such good shape and after such a long tenure is a testament to his abilities and tenacity.

Crutchfield's last day on the job is Friday. A public reception in his honor is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. today at the Pasco Red Lion.