RICHLAND — Richland Mayor John Fox had a message for the city's Public Facilities District board on Tuesday: "We'll be watching you."
"The city is going to be paying closer attention," Fox said following a meeting in which the council declined to give district board President Linda Boomer another term.
Instead, the council appointed two new members -- Nicholas Ceto III and Daniel J. Boyd -- to replace Boomer and former member Rich Emery, who did not reapply for the position.
Council members said they thought the board needed change to get the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center project moving.
"I think the board as it has been constituted has lost a little bit of traction," said Councilman Bob Thompson. "As a result, it is my belief we need some changes on that board -- changes merely to change the mix to advance the project in ways we are not seeing it advanced. To the current board's credit, these have been some tough economic times."
The four candidates for the position were Boomer; Boyd, a certified public accountant and treasurer for The Reach board; Ceto, record of decision manager for the Department of Energy's Richland Operations Office and secretary for The Reach board; and Allan Brecke, a lawyer and member of the state's Community Economic Revitalization Board who serves on the capital campaign committee raising money for the Reach project.
The vote for Ceto was unanimous, while Boyd earned his appointment in a 4-2 split. Council members Sandra Kent and Phil Lemley said they were voting for Boomer.
"I think the experience Linda brings to this board is important, and her connections," Lemley said.
Council members said Ceto gave the strongest interview, and they liked his business acumen and experience working with large, complex projects.
"They all have invested in our community and have pure desires regarding wanting our project to be successful," Kent said. "There also has been a lot of community input. Many individuals wanted to see continuity on the board, but there also was a desire for change. I felt as some members did that Ceto could bring some tools to the table."
Mayor John Fox said prior to the meeting that the council had been lobbied regarding the appointments, but didn't want to give specifics. He said any decision made by the council would be independent of any pressure.
The interpretive center is a $40.5 million, 61,000-square-foot museum intended to tell the story of the Hanford Reach National Monument and the flora, fauna, geology and history of the region.
The current total project estimate includes all design, construction, exhibits, permits and other expenses related to the project.
The biggest stumbling block the project has faced has been controversy over the originally proposed site on city-owned land at south Columbia Point, at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers.
Area tribes objected to the site because it has a long history as a meeting place and spiritual center for the tribes. The objection, combined with the land being designated part of a federal transportation corridor because of its proximity to Interstate 182, triggered an intensive permitting process the public facilities district ultimately decided it was unlikely to overcome.
The district's board considered several other sites and currently is discussing a location in the west end of Columbia Park, but that site is pending approval of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Fox said the delays caused by having to relocate the project were beyond the control of the district's board.
"I think it is not helpful to go back and review history and rehash how we got to this point," Fox said.
But he did express concern about recent conflict between the district's board and the board for The Reach, the nonprofit entity raising money for the project.
Fox said prior to the council meeting that the city's original intention in creating the Public Facilities District was to raise money and build the museum, while The Reach was supposed to operate it once it was built.
More recently, the facilities district board has said it views The Reach board's role strictly as a fundraising arm -- analogous to a foundation -- and that the district should be in charge of operating the museum.
Efforts to renew a memorandum of understanding between the two boards failed in May when the district declined to renew its relationship with The Reach in its existing form. The memorandum already had been extended for six months after expiring in December while the two boards hashed out their respective roles.
Both boards have said talks are ongoing, and that a new agreement will take some form other than a memorandum of understanding.
Appointing new members who can help "heal the rift" was an important consideration among council members as they discussed the open board positions Tuesday.
All four candidates were deemed passionate and knowledgeable, council members said.
"But it takes more than passion," said Councilwoman Sheila Sullivan, who initially supported Ceto and Brecke. "It takes the ability to move forward, to do what you're good at in harmony with the group. ... I really regret that there has been a rift between the two boards and that it got made public. I think these two men can heal that and come to some right decisions."
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; email@example.com