City manager stresses airport as key to Yakima's future

City manager stresses airport as key to Yakima's future

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima's new city manager wrapped up his first week on the job. City council has high hopes for Tony O'Rourke. KIMA's Jim Niedelman sat down with him to find out more about how he will address the problems in the city in a two-part interview.

Part one focused on is management style and how to address the city's infrastructure's needs. Part two focused on his ideas for economic development, professional sports in the city and what he will get done by the end of his two-year contract.

Here are the questions and answers:

What's your approach to running a city?

"Like a business."

How so?

"Well, I mean, in effect, cities are public corporations. And, you have a board of directors, the city council, the city manager, effectively the CEO and you have the responsibility to customers to deliver quality, reasonably priced services and products. No different than any business."

A strong city manager form of government puts you in kind of in a bit of a pressure cooker. How do you move a City Council forward that has, let's say, divergent opinions on issues like they do here?

"Well, the initiative here will be on our strategic plan and to create a common vision, a common purpose for the City Council to focus in on what I would call the vital few issues that we need to really stay focused on. As we complete the citizen's survey input, probably that will drive the focus of, of the council's strategies. Once we've developed those strategies, to stay the course."

Isn't the city manager's function, to some extent, to drive the City Council, especially in a strong form of government?

"Well, to facilitate a city council, absolutely."

One of the issues here is infrastructure. We've got some city streets in bad shape. Some traffic signals don't work. Yet, some cities have already taken the step to implement a $20 car tab fee in this valley. We were talking about that here, but it seems the can gets kicked down the line. Where do you stand on trying to get these things going? Is raising revenue, the whole taxes versus fees thing, is that a bad word politically?

"Well, it's not necessarily a bad word, but it shouldn't be the first option. The first option should be to control and evaluate your cost structure. You know, does the business model today represent the resources we're going to see in the future. And, I think, you know, though we're going through a recession, that government is going through a more profound change. I think we're going into an era of permanent constraints and limits, not temporary. And, given that, we have to live within those constraints and prove to the public that we're doing the best job possible in optimizing our existing expenses through our current structure or changed structure. And, only then should we be asking for additional revenues."

Well, how do you take care of the streets without it?

"That's a real catch 22 because that is a major asset of the public and the city. We're gonna have to find the funds, I think, to make sure that we're making investments in our infrastructure because long term, it's gonna cost us a lot more to replace and renew them than making incremental investments in them."  

This council was exuberant about you when it came to offering you this job. The members mentioned you had ideas about bringing in outside development to build this community. What are these ideas?

"Creating a public-private sector entity in Yakima of governments and for profit and not for profit organizations to help underwrite expanded airline service. I mean the airport is a major asset, which is probably by all measures under-performing. And, how do we it's development and growth because getting more access to Yakima will represent, you know, better economics, better business opportunities and also more convenience just for residents."

Do you feel that the tourist side is going to drive that though more than the businesses that are here?

"I think it will be a combination. You know, it's a plus for businesses. It will allow, many businesses need access to air service. If we can provide air service other than to Seattle, places like Portland, Salt Lake as a starting point, that will encourage businesses both to grow here and expand and come here. In addition clearly, it will support additional tourism."

Should Yakima have a professional team?

"I think it would be great."

Any kind of sports team?

"I think it would be great to have professional teams because it brings brand awareness to Yakima. I mean, I've had experience with creating and sanctioned PGA events in communities I've worked for, ATP tennis championship events. Those things bring brand identity to a community. I think that's a plus."

Well, we're losing a team. So, how do we sort of get that back? We've had other sports teams too. They haven't stayed.

"Yeah, you know, hopefully, we can look at that from an economic development perspective, see if it makes sense for Yakima. And, if it does, go out and recruit and get other professional franchises to come here because I think, personally, they do have a very positive impact as far as creating a brand awareness to a community."

What should the people of Yakima be able to point to at the end of your contract in two years and say, "Oh, Tony O'Rourke did that?" How do we hold you accountable for what we should see in two years?

"I'm glad you raised that point."

Beyond balancing the budget.

"Yeah, and that's a given. Very results oriented so, hopefully, on August 28th, the Council's going to have a strategic planning session. From that, we're going to identify deliverables to the community. What we intend to achieve, hold me accountable for that list of deliverables."

And, can they be done in two years?

"We'll see. We should be held accountable to them. They will clearly be in print. They'll be transparent and people should be aware, this is what we need to get measured against. This is our report card and we need to have mid-term and final grades."