Pasco City Council candidate won't say if he will serve if elected

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldOctober 14, 2013 

The challenger to Pasco City Councilman Tom Larsen won't say if he will serve if elected next month to the council.

Stu Nelson admits that he has not campaigned, left blank his information on Franklin County's online voters guide and even tried unsuccessfully to leave the race.

The Pasco businessman has served 10 years on the Franklin Public Utility District board and filed last spring to run against Larsen, a 12-year council incumbent.

But the PUD board adopted a policy seven years ago preventing its members from sitting on both boards, said Franklin PUD spokeswoman Debbie Bone-Harris.

"We work on so many things together it could give rise to a conflict of interest," she told the Herald. "It's just better not to."

Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the city has no rule preventing council members from serving on the PUD board, because the two positions are not deemed "incompatible offices" with a fundamental conflict.

However, it would be considered a conflict to serve on the city council and the county commission, he said.

This is not the first time Nelson and Larsen filed for the same position. Larsen challenged Nelson last year for a seat on the PUD board.

Nelson was re-elected with 10,340 votes, or about 55 percent, to Larsen's 8,328 votes.

But Nelson told the Herald that's not why he filed against Larsen this time.

"A lot of people want me to win the thing because they want to get rid of Tom," Nelson said. "I feel sorry for the guy. I don't want to debate with him. I debated with him last year,4 and it was an absolute joke."

When asked about his concerns, Nelson said, "You've heard him talk. Nothing has to be said."

Larsen is known for his opposition to projects popular with other council members. He has been a vocal opponent of the planned Lewis Street overpass, suggesting that the city wants to build it to accommodate "coal trains to China."

City officials argue that the estimated $30 million-plus overpass is needed to replace an aging underpass that connects downtown with the east side of the city.

On another issue, Larsen claimed last year that city staff was hiding information about the terms of an agreement to sell some of the city's excess sewer capacity to the Port of Walla Walla, and refused to apologize despite information showing the council had been notified.

Larsen's information on the voters guide said he voted against a bonus for Crutchfield, though he was absent when the council voted on the $12,000 bonus for 2013.

Larsen questioned why Nelson was still in the race.

"Why doesn't he go down and just withdraw?" he asked.

Nelson told the Herald he tried to withdraw, but it was after the May 20 deadline. That means his name will appear on the ballots being mailed this week.

Larsen declined to discuss issues in the campaign. He expressed confidence in his re-election since he is the incumbent. Also, Larsen does not have to run countywide, like he did in the PUD race.

The two did not face off in the primary because they were the only two candidates for the at-large position. All voters in Pasco will cast ballots in the race.

Pasco City Council members are elected to four-year terms and earn $12,000 a year. Franklin PUD commissioners make $21,600 annually.

Anyone wanting to be considered as a write-in candidate for the position has until Friday to file with the Franklin County Auditor's Office.

If someone is elected to the city council and resigns, then the council has 90 days to replace him, said Crutchfield.

"We'll probably solicit applications and go through interviews," he said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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