Dick Zais: His Illness And His Future

Dick Zais: His Illness And His Future
YAKIMA -- KIMA is following up on Yakima's city manager and answering the question, is Dick Zais ever coming back? Last month, Zais was forced to take an extended leave after suffering what KIMA now discovered was a serious medical emergency. In fact, there are a lot of doctors in town still scratching their heads over how the city manager even survived to talk about it. But Zais is talking for the first time about his illness, his recovery and his plans to return to his office in city hall.

On January 3rd, City Manager Dick Zais was rushed to a local emergency room with what was described as simply a "blood clot issue."

KIMA's David Klugh: "This thing sounds like it was a bit more serious than people realize."

Dick Zais: " Well, David, it was very serious. It really was a life-threatening event. The thought was, 'well this could be a heart attack or a heart condition' when you have those kind of chest pains. I had a rather significant, massive amount of small blood clots in my lungs and that's what created this condition and damage to my lungs that was fairly extreme."

David: "As many don't survive this as do."

Zais: "That is correct. I learned that later. After I was out of danger, the doctor said that you often see this kind of report in an autopsy."

Zais's condition forced him to watch the results of the strong mayor election from his home.

David: "It was no secret that you were not in favor of this city shifting to a strong mayor system. Which makes a lot of sense. You've run this city as city manager for more than 30 years. Why would you think that a new system would work better? It would almost be an insult to you and what you had done. Is it because this city should never have a strong mayor form of government, or is it about timing?"

Zais: "Well, I think it's a combination of things. Timing would be a factor. It was not a surprise to me that this issue would be re-entertained. It came up 22 years ago, but it had been simmering in the background. You know, maybe it will be appropriate to bring it back in three to five years. But the city needs some stability. Respect the will of the voters. If the tables had been turned, for example, and the strong mayor system had prevailed here, what would those parties say if there was an immediate effort to try and recapture momentum and bring the council/manager system back on line? There would be an immediate question. Well, wait a minute. The voters have spoken."

Despite his personal setback and his plans to leave the city for good in July, Zais remains optimistic about who and what we are.

David: "What is it that Yakima has to look forward to as someone who has been here for so much of its past?"

Zais: "This is a community that cares deeply about itself and about issues. And I think we have seen wonderful things happen here. There's not another city like Yakima that does all that we do, but on a per capita basis, we have lesser taxes per capita than other cities our size, and less expenditures per capita than most cities our size just with the services we provide."

Having said that, Zais is certain the city council will be forced to ask the voters for more to fix what is broken, starting with our crumbling streets.

David: "You think it's time for a bond issue on streets?"

Zais: "I think the time is coming to do that. 1985 was the last big voter bond for Nob Hill Boulevard and six other streets in this town."

Zais will not be here for that vote, if it ever comes. Still, he insists he has unfinished business with the city and plans to reoccupy his now empty office, even if for just a few short months.

David: "Let's make this last question hopefully the simplest of all. When will you be back?"

Zais: "When will I be back? I would like to be back on a part-time basis. The doctors could hopefully release me to do that perhaps as early as the week of the 21st of this month, but maybe a bit later. It's a bit humbling when you sit back and think about it and realize there are people who care about you and want the best for your recovery."

This year will be a big one for Zais. He is getting married in May, retiring from Yakima city government in July after 32 years as City Manager, and if all goes well, beginning the search for work in Olympia, where he and his new wife plan to relocate.

Once again, Zais is hoping to be back at his desk in city hall before the end of February.