Farewell to Marysville

City administrator leaves after 20 years to lead Bothell public works


Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE — City administrator Dave Zabell has spent almost half his life working for Marysville.

And he said that makes it hard to leave to take a position starting Nov. 1 as public works director with the city of Bothell.

"I left home when I was 18. I’ve been more time here than I lived at home," said Zabell, 42, as he sat in his City Hall office on his last official day as city administrator Friday, struggling to compose himself.

"In many ways, it’s like leaving home. It’s like leaving brothers and sisters. I grew up here," he said. "We grew up together," he said, referring to the many longtime members of the city staff he’s worked with over 20 years.

And although Zabell had many stories to tell about his time with the city — projects, challenges — he kept coming back to the people he worked with.

He praised city staff members for their "loyalty, professionalism, dedication, their can-do attitude."

And Zabell said it’s partly people, the city staff and council, that drew him to Bothell, as well as new professional challenges.

Zabell started as a traffic signal technician with the city of Marysville in 1980, moving to the public works department, then to public works director in the late 1980s, and, lastly, to city administrator in 1993.

He had a hand in numerous projects: a new library, City Hall, senior center, municipal golf course, a major water transmission line from Everett and several annexations. There were challenges, as well: a two-year lawsuit tangle with a developer, sometimes difficult labor negotiations. Earlier this year his performance became the focus of city council executive sessions. No actions were taken as a result of the council discussions.

But on his last day, Zabell focused most on the things he’s gained from his time with the city.

He said there were many rewards: "The projects you build, the impact those projects may have on the lives of the citizens," he said.

The biggest rewards, however, were helping others develop and grow and having others help him develop.

He recalled two of those mentors, especially Bill Butler, from whom he took over the position of public works director, and John Garner, his predecessor as city administrator.

He praised them both for encouraging him to finish his education while he worked for the city. Garner even allowed Zabell to work flexible hours to finish his bachelor’s degree in public administration.

Zabell said he also learned about how to be a city administrator from Garner: how to sell others on your good ideas by understanding where they’re coming from and providing them with the information they need, as well as how to accept decisions you may not agree with.

Several of those who worked with Zabell gave their own impressions of Zabell as a co-worker and boss during an Oct. 9 city council meeting. They described him as a good boss who let them do their jobs but provided support when they needed it, and a nice person, according to meeting minutes.

On Friday, Mayor David Weiser described Zabell as "smart, articulate, a lot of fun to work with." He also said his knowledge of the city and community, and memory of how and why things happened was helpful in coming up with solutions for current challenges.

And although Zabell is sad to go, he said he’s looking forward to his new position, partly because of the people he’ll work for and partly because of the new challenges he’ll face.

He said some of his new tasks will include trying to bring "an even hand" to Bothell’s public works department, which has gone through some transitions recently.

He’ll also work on some transportation improvements; help the water/sewer utility, which is at a crossroads, figure out where to go next; and maybe work on a regional project with Metro to build a new wastewater treatment facility in the area.

He won’t forget where he got his start in civil service, however, he said.

"I love Marysville," he said. "I’ll never forget this place."

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