Our Voice: Failed Kennewick contract lesson for all elected officials

October 4, 2013 

Tuition at the School of Hard Knocks can be expensive.

Kennewick has paid a handsome sum the past couple of years for a lesson in due diligence.

They entered into contracts with two different parties concerning commercial developments in Columbia Park. Both failed and the city ended up putting out money -- twice.

The most recent example was a claim by Aaron Beasley that was settled for $400,000. A suit brought by Columbia Park Golf Course operator Gary Long in 2007 eventually resulted in $2.4 million award.

The city went to trial in the Long case, and it could have gone to trial on the Beasley case.

And maybe even won.

But it doesn't take long for attorneys' fees to add up. Sometimes the win is the more expensive option.

The settlement likely saved the city money in the long run. It also allows the city to move forward, rather than focus more attention on the issue.

One councilmember, Bob Parks, voted against a slate of actions that included the settlement, but nobody could have been very happy about it.

We'll never know because it was placed on the consent agenda, where routine items are approved in a package deal without discussion.

It's fair to note that Kennewick's current city manager was not the city manager when either of the two contracts were signed off. And although some of the council members are the same, most are different.

Rather than play Monday-morning quarterback, we see an opportunity here that's worth noting.

Our concern today isn't so much the settlement, which is unfortunate but possibly the best way out for Kennewick.

Rather, we call for elected leaders to use a little more forethought before entering into contracts. Anticipate what can go wrong because it probably will.

All elected officials, even the ones beyond Kennewick's borders, would be wise to learn from the city's experiences.

Kennewick has been dinged a couple of times lately. And although the wounds are not fatal, the black eye stings.

When someone comes forward with an idea for development, especially the really big and glitzy idea, well, it's tempting to jump, especially when it appears to come without a price tag.

City councilmembers make a priority of bringing new business into their communities. It increases their tax base, which, in turn, builds roads and schools and pays for other necessities.

Sometimes those offers are deceptively attractive.

Of course, it's easy to look back at the whole thing now and see where shortsighted decisions were made. But even at the time the contract with Beasley was signed, this board thought it was a bad idea.

When you are responsible for spending taxpayer money, you have to be extra smart about it.

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