Franklin County Commissioner Bob Koch drew an election year challenge from Pasco businessman Rocky Mullen largely because of deteriorating relations between Franklin County and its larger, better-funded neighbor, Benton County.
On Tuesday, voters appeared to be happy with their incumbent.
With 10,000 ballots counted out of an estimated 24,000 cast, Koch was narrowly ahead of Mullen, with 4,245 votes to Mullen’s 3,966, or 52 percent to 48 percent.
The commissioner district covers Franklin County’s rural northern section.
Koch is a three-term incumbent who has been a strong voice for Franklin County’s rural third district.
Citing the narrow lead and the large number of ballots still to count, Koch declined to claim victory.
“I really don’t want to claim that I’ve won at this point,” he said.
Mullen was not immediately available to comment on the narrow race.
Mullen, a Pasco business owner who like Koch has rural roots, is seeking to unseat Koch not out of any philosophical differences, but because he thinks the three-member board needs a member to stand up to its arguably strongest voice, Brad Peck.
Peck apparently defeated challenger Matt Beaton in his own re-election race.
Both candidates say the current state of relations with Benton needs to be repaired and must be a top priority for the commission after the new terms begin on Jan. 1.
The new commission will face an even greater challenge — upgrading conditions at the Franklin County jail to settle a 2014 federal class-action lawsuit that claimed conditions did not meet constitutional standards. Franklin County denies the claim, but settled to avoid litigation.
To comply with the agreement, the jail is adding new staff, improving training and upgrading physical facilities.
The county is also under pressure to improve mental health services. Together with Benton County, Franklin hopes to hire a consultant to help guide it as it moves to address the local system’s shortcomings.