Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller faces two challengers in the Aug. 5 primary as he asks voters for a third four-year term in District 3.
Those challengers are Melinda Didier of Eltopia, who works in Kennewick's planning department and serves as chairwoman of Franklin County's planning commission, and Mark Kraft, an electrician at Battelle who lives north of Pasco.
Miller, 55, said the county has seen improvements in the past eight years, from having to cut the budget by $1.5 million in 2009 to having enough revenue to set money aside in reserves in case it faces financial trouble again. A new $19.5 million jail was also built.
But Didier, 54, said the county hasn't been accountable enough for the largest public embezzlement in state history. The county was also called out by the State Auditor's Office for not having strong enough oversight over ATMs at the TRAC facility.
Kraft, 57, has always been interested in politics, and decided to get involved for the first time this year, he said. He has strong opinions about the legal marijuana issue facing the county.
The position will pay $94,325 next year. District 3 includes the western part of Franklin County, including most of Pasco north of Interstate 182.
The county and Pasco have subsidized TRAC, which has two 40,000-square-foot arenas that can be used for trade shows and livestock events. Miller favors the county hiring an outside auditor to review the facility's finances, but wants to see it remain open as an event center.
"It was voted on by the people in 1994, so for that reason, I respect their decision," Miller said. "I think there's always improvements that can be made. We need to look at ways to make TRAC sustainable."
Miller would like to see TRAC add features that are appealing to children, such as horseback riding, he said.
Kraft is troubled by TRAC's recreational vehicle park competing against private facilities. He also blames ice skating offered at TRAC for putting the nearby Desert Ice skating rink out of business in 2002. But, at this point, he sees few options but to keep it.
"We've already spent the money, so we might as well keep it around," he said.
Didier has a problem with taxpayers subsidizing an event center.
"It really is an issue that should be put to the voters, to see if they want to continue to (fund it) and to what level," she said.
Franklin County has passed two six-month moratoriums on recreational marijuana sales, growing and processing, the second of which will expire in September.
Kraft doesn't see how the state ballot initiative allowing marijuana sales was ever passed, and wants to see the businesses banned in Franklin County.
"I think the counties in the state should ask the federal government to enforce the laws on the books, one of them being that marijuana is illegal," he said.
Didier is concerned about lawsuits from businesses that the county keeps from opening in unincorporated areas.
"Our county is very conservative," she said. "The (local) voters voted it down, but it is a state law. I really believe we have to look at what we're doing, and not put the county in a situation where we're going to get in legal trouble with the state."
Miller favors turning the moratoriums into a permanent ban, he said.
"Keep in mind that 61 percent of the county voted no on the marijuana law," he said, referring to Initiative 502, which passed statewide in 2012, but failed in the Mid-Columbia. "When it comes to the state, I don't care, because the west side is a whole different population."
A farmer who owns a greenhouse in the northern part of the county asked Miller not to allow growing marijuana in the area, he said.
"He said, 'It may take the sheriff a long time to get out here,' " Miller said. " 'If someone tries to break in because they think I've got marijuana, there may be a gun battle.' "
The county has taken too long to install a software system designed to prevent internal thefts, Didier said.
Commissioners voted to spend $1.1 million to buy the software in March 2012, saying at the time that employees would be trained for it within 14 months, but it still isn't in place. The software was purchased in the wake of a scandal in which Dennis Huston, Franklin County public works' former accounting and administrative director, took more than $2.8 million in county money.
"The money we spent on it, and the fact that it's been two years, that's a concern to me," Didier said. "I would like to see that implemented as soon as possible. There's such a lack of trust between government agencies and the public they serve."
Kraft said the county could have likely gone a less expensive route than the software. He would have preferred a better system of getting receipts from vendors.
"It seems like that would have been a simpler, cheaper way to have done it," he said.
Miller defended the implementation. Representatives from SunGard Public Sector, a New York-based software and consulting company, told him at a recent convention that the county's initial expectations for implementing the software were unrealistic and most governments take two-and-a-half years to do so, he said.
"It takes time when you put the software together," he said. "With that, we are going to keep an eye on everything."
Miller and Didier opposed working with Pasco to bring remaining unincorporated areas into Pasco's urban growth area against their will.
The area surrounded by west Pasco known as the "doughnut hole" will likely eventually be brought into the city, Miller said. It can be expensive for Franklin County to continue to provide service to the area, which is separate from the rest of the unincorporated county. But he does not want to help the city annex the area unless the residents show they want it.
"Why would I want to throw out anybody who wants to stay in the county?" he said.
Didier has dealt with a similar situation with the Tri-City Heights area, which is surrounded by Kennewick but has resisted becoming part of the city.
"The citizens really don't want to be part of the city," she said of the area near Canal Drive. "Sometimes you have to look at it. If the majority of the citizens do not want to be part of the city of Pasco, they should not be forced to do so."
Kraft doesn't want to force people into the city, but some restrictions need to be put on new development in the unincorporated area, such as requiring new homes to hook up to the city's sewer system, he said.
"You can't just put septics everywhere," he said.
White Bluffs bladderpod
All three candidates opposed the federal government's decision to list the White Bluffs bladderpod, a yellow flowering plant that grows near the shores of the Columbia River in Franklin County, as a threatened species.
All the candidates said the county should consider suing The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife if it has to.
The state Public Disclosure Commission shows Miller has raised $1,043 and spent $943 as of July 3. Most of the money came from himself, Miller said, but he also received $300 from Mesa farmer Mike Weiseler and $100 from Pasco construction worker Jason Shero.
Miller also picked up endorsements from the Franklin County Farm Bureau and Tri-City Association of Realtors, he said.
Didier and Kraft have not raised or spent any money, according to the commission.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; email@example.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom