2 Kennewick councilmen suggest changing ward system

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJune 18, 2013 

Confusion about what Kennewick city code requires when a city council vacancy occurs led two councilmen to suggest taking another look at the city's ward system.

Councilman Paul Parish made the suggestion, calling the system a "mess" during Tuesday's regular city council meeting.

In the next two election cycles, the city will lose at least two current council members, Parish said.

Councilman John Hubbard is running against Councilman Bob Parks for the at-large position because Hubbard is moving out of Ward 3, which he currently represents.

Parish, who was first elected in 1996, said he and Bob Olson, both longtime councilmen, would end up running against each other when their terms expire in 2015 because of ward boundary changes. He said he will not run against Olson, who started serving on council in 1988, out of respect for his colleague.

When the council updated ward boundaries in 2011 to balance the population based on the 2010 census, Olson's home moved from Ward 1 to Ward 2, officials said.

But Parish said he thinks the way the code is written means Olson should have been appointed to Sharon Brown's position when she resigned from her position in Ward 2 after she was appointed to the state Senate.

Then the council should have appointed someone from Ward 1, instead of Ward 2, he said.

The council appointed Councilman Greg Jones to Brown's unexpired term in Ward 2 in March.

Parks said what is done is already done. But he said the code needs to be cleaned up.

Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said the council may need to discuss adopting a different system, such as one where all council members are at large instead of having six of the seven assigned to three wards and one at-large position.

Kennewick residents vote for candidates for the ward they live in during the primary. During the general election, all Kennewick voters get a chance to vote on all open positions, Young said.

City Attorney Lisa Beaton said the amendment before the council would affect when the council changes ward boundaries, not when a vacancy is created on council because of a move or a resignation.

The provision the council is considering removing says that if a boundary change means that one ward has more council members than it is supposed to, the council will assign whoever has the shortest unexpired term to the ward where there is a vacancy, according to city documents.

The council decided in a 6-1 vote to table the discussion about amending the code until the July 16 meeting. Hubbard, who voted against tabling it, said he thought the council could pass the amendment now and fix other issues later.

Jones also questioned the need to table the motion, but after discussion, did vote to table it.

Parks said he doesn't want to vote on something that would have to be fixed later. He said he agrees with Parish that the code is not clear about what should happen, if, for example, a council member moves.

Parks has previously suggested all city council positions should be at large.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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