Leo Bowman retires as Benton County commissioner

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldDecember 29, 2012 

Leo Bowman recently deleted a few hundred outdated contacts from his cellphone.

But the purge hardly made a dent. More than 2,000 numbers and email addresses remain.

He amassed many of them during his 16 years as one of Benton County's prominent leaders and advocates. On Monday, he wraps up his tenure as a county commissioner.

"It's been a very productive career for me. I felt very good about it," the 73-year-old told the Herald this week at his Richland home. "It's been very rewarding."

Bowman announced in March that he wouldn't seek re-election. Since then, tributes and accolades have poured in.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared Dec. 12 as Leo Bowman Day. The proclamation describes Bowman as "a role model for all -- the true embodiment of selfless leadership and relentless perseverance."

Local officials say Bowman's tenacity and influence will be missed.

"In my mind, it's kind of a changing of the guard at the county because Leo has been there for so many years," said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council, or TRIDEC. "I think a lot of us are sad to see him go. Leo has been kind of an icon at the county."

Bowman was elected in 1996, and his fingerprints are on projects from the Finley intertie to the expansion of the Benton County Justice Center. He's known in particular for his expertise in transportation, helping lead groups from the Ben Franklin Transit board to the National Association of Counties Transportation Steering Committee.

"(Bowman) has been a great supporter for highway and street projects in the area," said Richland Mayor John Fox. "He's been very helpful in working with the local jurisdictions to promote the development of our transportation infrastructure."

Tim Fredrickson, general manager of Ben Franklin Transit, said Bowman has "given his all and his best effort to represent the needs of transit" in the Tri-Cities and nationally.

"From many different standpoints, I think Leo has shown his leadership," Fredrickson said. "I have always respected that and appreciated that very, very much."

Bowman also helped secure support for state legislation that paves the way for industrial growth in Kennewick, said that city's mayor, Steve Young.

"He walked the halls of the House and the Senate. He worked hard on it," Young said. "He's been an advocate for a number of things in the city. He was truly instrumental in making Kennewick what it is today."

Bowman's replacement also brings years of leadership experience. County voters in November picked longtime state Sen. Jerome Delvin to take over the District 1 seat.

Bowman said he expects Delvin to be a good fit for the county.

"(He) has the background. He's been in public service for (years). He has an opportunity because of that experience in the Legislature to really be an asset to the county," Bowman said.

Bowman's fellow commissioners -- Jim Beaver and Shon Small -- said their retiring colleague has made lasting contributions to the county.

"The thing I always liked about him --the decisions he made, he'd always try to tie the issues back to the community level. How's it going to benefit the economic sustainability of the community?" Small said.

Bowman said he's tried to be proactive, and that his leadership philosophy includes hard work, consistency, dependability and studying the issues.

"When decisions typically come to the Board of Commissioners, somebody's not going to like the decision. And so you need to know and understand why you're making a decision," Bowman said. "It has to be in the best interests of the citizens as a whole."

Bowman, who spent much of his childhood in Lewiston, came to the Tri-Cities to open a Goodyear store in Richland. He eventually started his own automotive business.

His entry into local politics was a bit rough.

"The very first time I ran (for commissioner) was eight years before I won," Bowman recalled. "I didn't know how to spell campaign. ... It was an eye-opening experience."

He had better luck when he tried again, and he's held the commissioner seat continuously for 16 years.

In retirement, his cellphone contact list likely will get a bit of a break. He'll spend time with family -- he's married with four kids and a gaggle of grandkids and great-grandkids -- and "make a lot more sawdust," he said, referring to his woodworking hobby.

Asked if he'll take on another local leadership role, he said he wasn't sure.

But, he said, one thing won't change:

"I'm so proud of this county, I could never be anything but an advocate," Bowman said. "I'm so proud of the people. ... The people just don't give up."

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