The four Richland City Council positions up for election this year drew unusually high interest over the perception the council isn’t listening to its citizens.
The race for Position 3, held by Sandra Kent, is no different.
Kent and her colleagues defend their record of service and dialogue. But the image persists in part because of their decision to levy a $20 car license fee to fund a portion of the $38 million Duportail Bridge project, as well as its reluctance to consider a resolution that would declare Richland an “inclusive” community.
Kent faces challengers Shir Regev and Lloyd Becker in the Aug. 1 primary.
Ballots were mailed Wednesday and must be postmarked or returned by election day. The top two will advance to the Nov. 7 general election, with the winner sworn in next January. The 2018 salary for City Council members is $1,143 per month. All positions are elected at-large from the entire city.
At a recent candidate forum at John Dam Plaza, Regev and Becker said they were motivated to run in part by the idea the council appears disconnected from residents.
Sandra Kent was first appointed to Position 3 in 2008, then elected to the balance of the term in 2009 and then to a two-year term in 2011.
Richland has an unusual system in which the candidate who wins with the fewest votes serves a two-year term rather than the standard four years. The rule ensures that at least four council members — a majority of the seven-person body — face re-election every two years.
She won her current four-year term in 2013, when Greg Jones won the “two-year” seat by garnering the fewest votes to win.
Kent is a 20-year Richland resident. She is deputy chief counsel at Mission Support Alliance. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and earned her law degree from the University of Kansas. She chairs the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District.
Kent defended the council’s record of listening to the public. She said part of the issue stems from the procedural limitations of following Robert’s Rules of Orders, the parliamentary procedures that guide the conduct of most public boards and commissions. She wants to find a way to integrate community input that doesn’t upend the rules meant to ensure a fair public process.
She welcomed another candidate’s suggestion the council hold Saturday meetings in addition to its regular Tuesday sessions.
Kent voted for the car tab fee after initially pushing for a toll on the bridge’s eventual users. The council also considered funding the project through council-issued bonds, a property tax hike, and a sales tax, she said.
She does not plan to raise or spend more than $5,000 on the campaign, according to her registration with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Shir Regev is a health physics technician at the Hanford site. She graduated from Kamiakin High School and from Washington State University and served in both the Peace Corps and Navy (as an electronics technician) before returning to the Tri-Cities.
She has no prior elected experience. She believes she is the first openly LGBT candidate for public office in Benton County, a point she has emphasized in her campaign.
Regev was prompted to run by the “standoff” over the inclusion statement, she said.
“Residents don’t feel (they are) being included in the decision-making process,” Regev said at the League of Women Voters forum.
Her focus is on inclusion and revitalizing the city’s central business district, including the Uptown shopping center. She also questioned why Richland chose a tax on its residents for the Duportail Bridge when it will be used by the entire community.
“It’s not clear everyone wants it,” she said.
Regev has raised $3,299 and spent $1,952 on her campaign, according to filings with the PDC. Her largest donation is from an engineer at Hanford and her largest expenses were for campaign shirts and yard signs.
Lloyd Becker retired from the Army and moved to Richland in 1996, where he earned degrees in business administration from Colorado Technical University.
“People are not being included in the conversation with the city,” he said.
He supports business diversity to increase the city’s tax base, reducing waste and revitalizing the central business district.
The car tab fee is his primary interest. If elected, he would move to delay the project until the city can find a different way to fund it. The city should have established a savings account for the project back when it built the city shops on the west side of the Yakima River at Queensgate, he said.
“There are better sources of funding out there,” he said. “They want to steal $20 out of Grandma’s pocket.”
Becker does not intend to raise or spend more than $5,000 during the campaign, according to his registration statement to the PDC.
For the record
The elected seven-member Richland City Council is the city’s highest legislative authority and hires and fires the city manager.
The city’s 2017 budget of nearly $259 million funds a wide variety of activities, including capital projects, public safety, parks, recreation, economic development and utility service.
Its chief revenue sources include property taxes, retail sales tax, utility fees and building permit fees. The city, population 54,200, employs 464 people.