Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg has paid $250 to resolve an anticipated fine for wearing his uniform and driving his patrol car to a 2014 news conference in support of a ballot measure.
The measure, which passed with 53 percent approval, increased the sales tax by 0.3 percent in Benton County to help fund law enforcement.
State law does not permit people to use government equipment, including uniforms or patrol cars, to support candidates running for office or promote ballot measures, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
“As with everything we do, we are all accountable,” Hohenberg said. “I have written a personal check and dropped it off to the city attorney, who is handling the final disposition of the complaint.”
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He was joined at the May 13, 2014, news conference by former Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane, Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner, former West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy and Prosser Police Chief David Giles.
All wore uniforms and drove their patrol cars, and all face similar charges.
A proposed resolution states that Hohenberg will be fined $750 with $500 suspended, on the condition he does not violate election laws again for four years, according to state documents.
He didn’t have to pay the fine yet. The Public Disclosure Commission hasn’t made a final decision in the case and doesn’t meet again until May, said Executive Director Evelyn Fielding Lopez.
“He’s jumping the gun,” she said.
Hohenberg countered that the case has been pending for three years, and he doesn’t want to wait any longer to have it resolved.
“I would rather be transparent about it,” he said.
I have been waiting for three years to have it resolved.
Ken Hohenberg, Kennewick police chief
The charges against the officers were separated from a set of complaints filed by four Benton County residents in July 2014. Leon Howard, a retired Energy Northwest security official from West Richland, signed the official complaints.
Howard’s complaint alleges public officials appeared to blur the line between providing factual information, which is allowed, and advocating for the measure, which is not.
Fielding Lopez said the complaint was unusually complicated. The commission generated a 54-page report on the investigation. The results will be determined next month by the commissioners, Fielding Lopez said.
“Everyone is quite anxious to have it over,” she said.
In 2015 and 2016, the sales tax generated more than $12 million.
Hohenberg said the tax pays for 15 Kennewick police officers, two police support specialists and an assistant city attorney. It supports an additional 32 police officers throughout Benton County, and safety programs including the Mental Health Court.