By Stefanie Donahue
Wrapping up a years-long career in public service, city manager Dave Wilbrecht retired on June 15.
Wilbrecht – who was succeeded by Michael Jones – became Blaine’s city manager in June 2013. He was selected from a pool of 45 candidates by Blaine City Council, which at the time lauded his wide range of experience.
“I see a lot of potential here [in Blaine],” Wilbrecht said during a public forum in May 2013. “But I get a sense that the town is languishing and needs a leader. There needs to be a plan.”
Looking back, he said he has taken several steps to help the city plan for its future.
Wilbrecht spent most of his career in Washington state – and he’s worn many hats.
In 1977, he landed a job in Snohomish County, working as a work release counselor for the sheriff’s department and in code enforcement at the planning department.
The work set in motion a career in public service that spanned 36 years.
While parks division manager for the city of Redmond, he managed a 40-acre farm that had been donated to the city. As deputy director of parks, recreation and cultural services for the city of Federal Way, he oversaw the construction of Celebration Park as well as special events venue, Dumas Bay Centre.
“Parks and recreation offered me a chance to work in areas I never would have,” he said.
After obtaining a master’s degree in public administration, Wilbrecht ventured into the private sector in 1989, working as a management consultant, operations director and real estate broker for five years.
“I really missed public service,” he said. “My motivation to come to work isn’t necessarily about having to sell something. It’s really about the service.”
He returned to the public sector in 1994 in Federal Way; in 2000, he was hired as director of parks, recreation and community service for the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. He went on to spend eight years as county administrative officer for Mono County in California before he returned to Mammoth Lakes as the town manager to help with a financial crisis that was brought on by a lawsuit against the city.
In 2013, he decided to end his long career in Blaine.
“For me, a lot of stuff that I did was directly related to what other people do,” Wilbrecht said, giving credit to city staff. “I work through others most of the time.”
He said he is immensely proud of the city’s recent initiative to enforce municipal code.
Thanks to the work of community planner and code enforcement officer, Maddie Ottley – who recently resigned – six properties were demolished and another six were repaired in 2017. Another 116 violations were resolved voluntarily by property owners.
“[If] you invite someone to your home, it’s really nice to have it looking good as possible, particularly if you want them to build something around you,” he said. “I think it’s a safer community because some of those buildings had bad things going on in them.”
He said the city also reached a significant milestone after state legislators approved the allocation of $1.2 million to extend utility infrastructure to east Blaine and $550,000 to update an Interchange Justification Report for a project to add a new southbound off-ramp on I-5 at exit 274 during the short term legislative session in 2018.
“It’s really important for the city to develop,” he said, referring to three stalled residential development projects in east Blaine that are awaiting proper infrastructure. “Everybody wants downtown to develop. You need to have customers. We need more locals.”
Wilbrecht also helped launch the city’s Strategic Economic Initiative, which is ongoing and aims to improve city facilities and amenities.
He said the initiative helped set the stage for a voter-approved .2 percent sales tax increase, from 8.5 to 8.7 percent. The funding will be used for transportation projects to improve streets, trails and sidewalks.
Selling property at the Gateway Parcel, the former site of the Blaine Municipal Airport, has also been a large boost for the city, Wilbrecht said.
In 2017, dessert manufacturer Chuckanut Bay Foods purchased 2.28 acres of the site for $396,644.
Represented by Boblett Properties LLC, Yorkston Oil Co. is currently in negotiations with the city to build a truck fuel stop, fast food restaurant, coffee shop and convenience grocery store at the site.
What lies ahead
“Michael was willing and able to step up,” Wilbrecht said of Jones, who is currently serving as interim city manager.
“He understands [Blaine City Council], what their attitudes are, what their goals are [and] where they want to go. He’s shown success in what he’s done,” he said. “All of these projects we’ve talked about, he’s had his fingers in all of them. I think he’s going to do a really good job for the city.”
Grappling with budget constraints will be Jones’ largest challenge, Wilbrecht said.
“How in the world do you pay for it?” he said about new city expenses, such as the need to increase the police force. “Those are general fund expenses and our general fund is as tight as a drum head.”
In retirement, Wilbrecht said he plans to take it easy.
“I’m going to rest,” he said with a wide grin. “This is a 24/7 job. It never ends. So I’m looking forward to waking up and not thinking about it.”
He and his wife Elizabeth plan to spend time in the outdoors between visits to Nevada where their two kids and two grandchildren live.
“We’re just going to be as active as ever,” he said.