M’ville council debates future of administrator


Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE – Council members here are involved in an exhaustive tug-of-war over city administrator Dave Zabell’s performance.

Zabell was the topic of two closed-door city council meetings last month, including one that lasted seven hours.

A few city council members question Zabell’s performance, and his current three-year contract expires at the end of this year. Though no additional meetings to discuss Zabell are scheduled, more are likely.

Even his top supporter and boss, Mayor Dave Weiser, said the personnel issues discussed in the executive sessions are not yet settled. Under state law the city council can have closed sessions to discuss personnel, litigation or real estate matters.

Former councilman Brett Roark waited outside during both closed sessions and said the attempts to discredit Zabell were small-town politics at their worst. He said he had hoped to attend the meetings and show his support for Zabell.

Roark said when he was first appointed to the council he was approached by a few council members asking him to help remove Zabell. He expects this year’s new council members got the same call.

The city council does not formally review the administrator’s performance, but does approve his contract.

Any attempt to fire Zabell would need five votes to override the mayor’s veto, and no vote has occurred.

Zabell was the city’s public works director when he was sent to school by the city to train for the top position. Mayor Weiser hired him as city administrator in 1993.

Weiser attended the executive sessions even though some council members had hoped to meet without him. He said Zabell has consistently received high marks in annual performance reviews and has improved his employee relationships since no-confidence votes by the public works and police unions several years ago.

"The issues were more misunderstandings than anything else," Weiser said.

Councilman Jim Brennick said one reason for the meetings is that new council members have brought a new perspective to the city. Brennick, Suzanne Smith and John Soriano were all seated in January and each agreed to request one of the executive sessions.

Brennick said he didn’t see any reason for an immediate change in the city administrator’s office.

Zabell and Weiser work well together, Brennick said, "which is important."

The first meeting lasted five minutes when council members learned the mayor would attend. The second executive session lasted almost seven hours and included testimony from former police chief Bob Dyer and former finance director Ed Erickson. Dyer retired several years ago with a medical disability. Erickson left the city after about one year.

Three-year incumbent Normajean Dierck was the only member to sign on to both sessions. While she wouldn’t discuss what happened, she said she’d like the mayor and city administrator’s duties more clearly defined. Too often staff members seem to lead the council into certain decisions rather than requesting the council’s policy direction, Dierck said.

"A lot of times I feel we do our government backwards," she said.

The need for more definition in the duties of the administrator and full-time mayor was mentioned by several council members. The need for both full-time positions was also questioned in last year’s mayoral election.

Councilwoman Donna Pedersen, a primary candidate, said she wondered about duplication and pay for the positions during the election. Since then she’s seen some changes and said she’s not concerned by the lack of a job description for the mayor.

Other council members said they were more concerned about the division of responsibilities at the top of the city administration. The council made the mayor’s position full-time three years ago.

Roark said he thought the two jobs were redundant, but that a change in the city administrator should result from a change in the city’s direction, not from old grievances against a qualified individual. Roark didn’t run for his appointed city council seat in 1999 because of his family and private business responsibilities.

He said his 21/2 years in office was long enough. "Long enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth for some of the politics involved in small cities," he said.

You can call Herald Writer Kristin Kinnamon at 425-339-3429or send e-mail to


Talk to us

More in Local News

Marysville firefighters respond to a 12-year-old boy who fell down a well Tuesday May 30, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Photo provided by Marysville Fire District)
Marysville firefighters save boy who fell 20 feet into well

The 12-year-old child held himself up by grabbing on to a plastic pipe while firefighters worked to save him.

Highway 9 is set to be closed in both directions for a week as construction crews build a roundabout at the intersection with Vernon Road. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Weeklong closure coming to Highway 9 section in Lake Stevens

Travelers should expect delays or find another way from Friday to Thursday between Highway 204 and Lundeen Parkway.

Students arriving off the bus get in line to score some waffles during a free pancake and waffle breakfast at Lowell Elementary School on Friday, May 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
800 free pancakes at Everett’s Lowell Elementary feed the masses

The annual breakfast was started to connect the community and the school, as well as to get people to interact.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring speaks at the groundbreaking event for the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$123M project starting on Highway 529 interchange, I-5 HOV lane

A reader wondered why the highway had a lane closure despite not seeing work done. Crews were waiting on the weather.

Justin Bell was convicted earlier this month of first-degree assault for a December 2017 shooting outside a Value Village in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)
Court: Snohomish County jurors’ opaque masks didn’t taint verdict

During the pandemic, Justin Bell, 32, went on trial for a shooting. Bell claims his right to an impartial jury was violated.

Gary Fontes uprights a tree that fell over in front of The Fontes Manor — a miniature handmade bed and breakfast — on Friday, May 12, 2023, at his home near Silver Lake in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s mini-Frank Lloyd Wright builds neighborhood of extra tiny homes

A tiny lighthouse, a spooky mansion and more: Gary Fontes’ miniature world of architectural wonders is one-twelfth the size of real life.

Will Steffener
Inslee appoints Steffener as Superior Court judge

Attorney Will Steffener will replace Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis, who is retiring in June.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit: Defective inhaler led to death of Mountlake Terrace man

Pharmaceutical company Perrigo recalled inhalers in September 2020. Months earlier, Antonio Fritz Sr. picked one up at a pharmacy.

Steven Eggers listens during his resentencing at Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Life in prison reduced to 38 years for 1995 Skykomish River killing

Steven Eggers, now 46, was 19 when he murdered Blair Scott, 27. New court rulings granted him a second chance at freedom.

Most Read