Richland council candidates focus on development

By Kristin M. Kraemer and Joe Chapman, Herald staff writers October 19, 2009 

RICHLAND -- Two incumbents on the Richland City Council drew challengers in the general election.

Councilwoman Sandra Kent, 44, and challenger Creighton Knight, 35, are competing for the position 3 seat, which Kent was appointed to in February 2008 after former Mayor Rob Welch resigned.

Rita Mazur, 73, who has served on the city council for the past 14 years, is being challenged by Phillip Lemley, 68, for the position 5 seat.

A Tri-Cities resident for 10 years, Kent said she is invested in the community. And as a city council member, she continues to look for opportunities to ensure other citizens can have input and be involved in their city's future.

"Things are great in Richland. We're coming in on budget. We're in the process of rolling out the draft 2010 budget and it's a balanced budget," she said. "It's very exciting because we not only are continuing the same high level of service that the community has come to expect, but there are also moments of innovation."

The budget calls for installing solar dishes as part of the utility work, while the council assesses different efficiencies across all city departments without decreasing levels of service, Kent said. Park maintenance was a significant issue last year, but now the city wants to do park enhancements like community gardens and other changes that could increase their usage, she said.

Kent's passions range from smart park management and the advancement of city programs to keep costs low for residents, to a continued emphasis on economic development.

"A lot has been said about development at the Uptown Shopping Center. A great example is they have some really excellent small businesses located at the Uptown, but it's also an area where some folks see that as prime real estate for development," said Kent, who served on the planning commission for two years. "I'd like to see us come up with options that are both friendly to small businesses but at the same time create additional opportunities for us to make the property more usable."

She is senior counsel for Washington River Protection Solutions, a contractor for the Department of Energy's Office of River Protection. She is married with two stepchildren.

If elected councilman, Knight says one of the biggest things he'd bring to the table "is really common sense and business sense."

In studying the council's past decisions, he said, "They seem to have gone astray when it comes to taxes and spending. The reason I'm running is to protect people's pocketbooks, to help make good decisions that are going to be financially sound and to not raise property taxes."

The city council's priorities should be economic development -- which doesn't mean strip malls on every corner or adding to the concrete jungle -- and broadening Richland's economic base, Knight said. The latter would mean more jobs and less reliance on property taxes, he said.

"Richland is a great city and we have a great story to tell. We have a great economy and we have a wonderful, talented work force," he said. "I know we have a great story to tell other businesses that are looking to locate here."

But residents need a stronger voice in position 3 to see real change, he said. Knight said he would take advantage of Richland's low cost-of-living and high per-capita income to attract companies.

"I would bring outside-the-box innovative thinking to the council," said Knight, noting that -- as a quality assurance supervisor for Con-Agra Lamb Weston -- he works for one of the area's largest employers.

He said he also has a real business perspective with a background in banking and both small and large businesses.

"The biggest thing is to never forget that it's the people's money," he said. "People get into government positions and start spending like it's their own money. They need to be frugal with it."

That includes planning for future expenses, particularly increases, so taxes don't have to be raised, he said.

Knight and his wife moved to the Tri-Cities in 1999. They have one daughter.

In the race for position 5, Mazur said her biggest goal is to make the Uptown and downtown areas more viable.

Although she voted for the project to put Duportail Bridge over the Yakima River, she said it was more a vote of solidarity with the other council members than a hearty endorsement. Mazur said she has concerns about the project drawing traffic away from the Uptown and downtown areas.

The Richland Farmers Market has been good for downtown businesses, drawing 1,500 to 2,000 people each week, she said. But those visitors haven't been patronizing the stores as much as they could, she said.

"I'm trying to figure out a way that we can make it worth their while to stay open on weekends more and later at night so more people will want to come," Mazur said.

She has lived in Richland since 1952. She's a retired teacher who worked as a real estate agent until 2001.

Mazur is a widow with five children and nine grandchildren. She's the second link in a four-generation family that also includes her mother, who lives near her.

Lemley said he's running again because he feels the city council needs a fresh approach. He has run for the council twice before.

He said the most pressing problem facing Richland is the city's financial situation.

"We have to figure out ways to balance the budget without cutting services, raising taxes or raising fees. I think that's the most important thing," he said.

And the way to do that, he said, is eliminating waste.

He pointed to the country's economic troubles and acknowledged the Tri-Cities have been somewhat shielded. But he said it's important to be careful with the city's money nonetheless.

"We need to support our fire and police departments above everything else," he said. "Because without these men and women, we cannot be and feel safe in our homes."

Lemley works for Bechtel as a supervisor at the vit plant. He has lived in Richland for eight years and is single with no children.

He serves on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. He also is involved with Rotary, the Boy Scouts, Columbia Basin First Tee and Richland Police Department's Volunteers in Police Service.

Positions 1, 4 and 7 also are up for election, but Councilmen Bob Thompson and David Rose and Mayor John Fox are running unopposed.

The top three winners among positions 1, 4, 5 and 7 will receive four-year terms, and the candidate with the lowest winning vote total will receive a two-year term.

The position 3 term also will be for two years -- as it is the remainder of an unexpired four-year term.

Council member salaries will be $1,028 per month at the start of the next term, with the mayor receiving an additional $250 per month. Council members also receive a car allowance.

The election is Nov. 3.

-- For more election coverage, go to tricityherald.com/election.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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