The battle over Franklin County commissioner's Brad Peck re-election next month for the Position 1 seat may hinge on challenger Mark Faith being a qualified county resident.
Faith, a county building inspector, owns a West Richland home in Benton County, where his wife and children still reside. However, Faith has been living at a friend's home on Road 92 in Pasco since May.
Peck claims Faith violated state law by registering to vote in the county two months before moving to Pasco and then filing as a qualified candidate in mid-May.
The residency issue and Faith's counter-charge that Peck held a $3,168 overpayment in travel allowance from 2011 are dominating the campaign.
Faith claims Peck should have refunded the overpayment months earlier, as did Commissioner Rick Miller, who paid back his excess travel allowance in June. Faith points in particular to questions raised by state auditor Tim Anderson about the rate disparity last November.
Peck wrote his refund check to the county last week.
Faith told the Herald editorial board that Peck should resign for holding onto the money so long.
"It looks like he was trying to get away with (holding onto the overpayment) as long as he could," Faith claimed.
Peck countered by saying Faith's questionable residency should knock him out as a legitimate candidate.
"Faith did not live in Franklin County when he registered. That is a class C felony with a penalty up to five years and a $10,000 fine," Peck told the Herald.
Peck added, "I did not challenge his candidacy, but it needs to be out in the public and I think he needs to be called on it."
But Faith, who responded in writing to the Herald last week, claimed he met the state's residency rules by renting a room at a friend's home at 3620 Road 92 in early March, registering to vote about a week later, and then filing for office May 14.
Faith also claims he has shown no favoritism as a plans examiner and building inspector to the owner of the home where he now lives and who is a personal friend -- Kyle Pfundheller, whose business is Trinity Homes.
Faith said Pfundheller refused to accept rent payment while he was living in the house and running for office.
But Peck says Faith having a room at a friend's home in Pasco while his family lives in West Richland does not show Faith has a permanent home in Franklin County.
The squabble about residency and nonrefunded travel payments have overshadowed other issues.
Peck, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who worked for Energy Northwest before being elected commissioner four years ago, says county residents in west Pasco should have a voice in being annexed.
"The residents were severely strong-armed (by the city). I don't like the way the city handled it," Peck told the Herald. But he said having residents form their own city isn't an efficient solution, either.
Peck also said it was unfortunate discussions between the city and county broke off on bringing an aquatic center to TRAC, but there are opportunities for the county's 31 acres surrounding TRAC that could allow that project to happen.
Peck said he opposes school impact fees being charged to new home developers, but doubts the voters will approve any more school bonds.
"We are going to have to bite the bullet and fund schools," Peck said.
He said Franklin County's growth is unbalanced on sources of revenue, with not enough emphasis on bringing industrial development and new businesses to boost tax dollars.
Faith has similar view on the issues: He is opposed to the impact fees and sees growth as a top issue with the need for new business and industrial development.
"That's where we've fumbled the most," he said.
Faith prefers keeping TRAC intact as an ag-related facility and is opposed to the city annexing the approximately 4,000 residents in the 4-square-mile area known as the Riverview Island area in west Pasco.
Peck cited his work to create a 911 regional call center, efforts to relocate the nonprofit Grace Clinic into the former bicounty health district offices in Kennewick, and trimming the budget to reduce spending by 9 percent and staffing by 10 percent show he was an effective commissioner.
"I see some real social needs (for the future)," Peck said, noting that he has tried twice to win support for building a regional consolidated crisis center.
Faith said his job as a building inspector for Franklin County has brought him closer to the people and their issues.
"We have to do something to get this budget under control," Faith said.
Faith says he has lived in the Tri-Cities most of his life and is a 1984 Kennewick High School graduate. He served in the Army, attended Columbia Basin College and is married with three children.
"I have a passion for public service and a sincere desire to serve at a higher capacity," Faith said in a statement to the Herald.