After meeting with all eight candidates for West Richland City Council and the two candidates for mayor, our observation is this: The city is going through its adolescence.
The community is changing — probably faster than what some citizens would like — and how to manage these changes is the key difference between candidates in many of the races.
The bedroom community has attracted thousands of new residents in recent years, and the recent opening of Leona Libby Middle School on Belmont Boulevard likely will spur more families to move to the community.
So the question is: How does West Richland provide for new services if it doesn’t increase revenue?
There are experienced candidates running for office who have vision, and they see the potential for new business in the community. They know change is inevitable if the city is going to thrive, and they want to prepare for the growth now.
Other candidates want West Richland to keep its rural atmosphere forever (or as long as possible), and are in no rush to encourage new development.
We weighed in on the mayor’s race already, and suggested the present mayor, Brent Gerry, is looking ahead while his opponent, former mayor Jerry Peltier, seems to be missing the old days. We recommended Gerry for the post.
City council incumbents Rich Buel, Gail Brown and former city Councilman Bob Perkes are more in line with Gerry.
Those voters who like Peltier’s way of thinking, however, likely will appreciate challengers Merle Johnson, Michelle Marcum and incumbent John Smart.
In the race between newcomers Fred Brink and Kate Moran, we tip to Moran. Brink is an excellent candidate, but Moran is so far outside city circles that we think her fresh perspective would be an asset.
There are many residents who like West Richland just the way it is, and we understand that.
However, complaining about past decisions the council has made without much talk about what’s to be done now is not helpful.
We recommend those candidates with long-range vision. Read on for highlights of each match-up.
Buel and Johnson
Rich Buel has been a West Richland councilman since 2001 and this is the first time he has drawn a challenger. Merle Johnson served on the council from 2005 to 2011, and said he chose to oppose Buel because it was 4:30 p.m. on a Friday and nobody else had filed against Buel.
The two obviously respect each other. Johnson, though, is critical of the city’s decision to “abandon” the Van Giesen corridor and move city departments to a new municipal services building on Belmont Boulevard.
Johnson calls it the council’s “playground,” and believes the $8 million for the new facility was excessive and leaves less money for parks, police and roads.
Buel said moving the city services is part of a bigger picture for West Richland, and that providing the infrastructure to the new location in the Belmont district helped attract the middle school. Now other businesses are likely to follow, he said.
It also freed up city property on Van Giesen — a main thoroughfare — so it can now be sold for professional businesses, such as doctor and attorney offices.
Merle said “you can’t serve two masters” and that there is nothing wrong with being a “bedroom community.” He added, “That’s what West Richland is.”
Buel defended his decisions, saying if you “slam the door on progress,” the city dies. He believes in striving for a balance.
Smart and Perkes
Two years ago we recommended Smark and Perkes for the council in separate races.
Perkes was an incumbent at the time, and lost the election. Smart was an impressive challenger who won his seat.
Smart insists he is not anti-growth, but he wants to wait until the time is right. He does not believe West Richland’s population justifies expansion just yet, and that the council should be patient.
Perkes, on the other hand, said, “Today’s money costs less than tomorrow’s money,” and he is certain the middle school would not have moved to its present location if the infrastructure had not been in place.
He also noted that City Hall’s location on Van Giesen was the city’s “best real estate” and that it makes sense to free it up for commerical use.
Smart wants the city to grow in a way that maintains its rural atmosphere. It seems to us that Perkes wants that too, but that he is more open to making bolder moves if necessary.
He acknowledged some of his past decisions cost him the election two years ago and even cost him customers at his chiropractic office. But he said “you can’t punt” the tough decisions.
Brown and Marcum
Gail Brown has been on the city council for 20 years, and she admits her family wonders why she keeps it up.
But she is committed to serving the city, and her experience is invaluable. Challenger Michelle Marcum, owner of the West Richland Golf Course, has a long history in the city, as well, but in a different way.
She agreed to buy the course from the city in 2006, and financial troubles ensued for several years.
Those issues, however, are behind her, and she said she is running because she wants to be more involved in the community. Marcum has kept her radar tuned to a variety of challenges facing the city and has not been in favor of many of the council’s decisions.
While she believes the city needed a new shop building, she — like other challengers — thought the decision to move other city services to the complex cost the taxpayers too much money. She also questioned why certain proposals for the Yakima River Gateway from years before have been shelved and ignored.
She says she has a good idea of what people are talking about in the city because many visit her golf club. That could be a plus for her on the council.
For example, Brown acknowledged that misinformation has led people to believe that Flat Top Park is in jeopardy of commercial development, but she — like other incumbents — insisted it is a city asset that won’t be torn down or built up.
On the municipal facility issue, Brown said it is more efficient to have all the city services at one location. She also notes that the “pretty pictures” Marcum has of past ideas for the Yakima River gateway were just a consultant’s ideas. Instead, the council is addressing current needs by making the river area safer and more accessible for people who want to float the river.
She also said she believes in planning ahead or else “you get in trouble.” We agree.
Brink and Moran
Fred Brink and Kate Moran are both fine candidates, citizen volunteers, Navy veterans and Hanford employees.
After considerable discussion, the Herald Editorial Board was convinced that Moran is just what Richland needs and recommends her to the voters. That may come as a surprise because Brink has been involved in city affairs, serving on both the planning commission and the salary commission. His insight and experience would be a plus.
But with the potential for divided camps on the council, having someone who is new to city government could be a good thing.
Moran’s Navy duties included time as a nuclear reactor operator and she served on the USS Ronald Reagan. She made time to be the lead active duty volunteer at the Veteran’s Home in San Diego, coordinated for several “Be the Match” bone marrow registry drives, worked as a group leader for United Way, Fleet Reserve Association member and Veterans of Foreign Wars member.
She now works as a training specialist at the vitrification plant.
As for Brink’s service, in addition to the Navy, for 24 years he was a Special Agent for the FBI. It’s no surprise that law enforcement is high on his agenda if elected.
He sees the local pot shop as a possible trouble spot. Brink is a national security program manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He also has served as a representative to the Benton County Law and Justice Council.
He is an impressive candidate, and we are sure many voters will appreciate his management background and support him. Moran, though, is outgoing, open to citizen input and has an energetic, fresh approach to meeting the needs of the various factions in the growing city.
On the issue of communication, Moran and Brink both say the present council could do a better job. We absolutely agree. There seems to be a serious disconnect, and we suggest council members make it a priority to make the public feel welcome at meetings.
Members now restrict public input by allowing citizens only a few minutes to speak at meetings, and then they don’t respond to citizen comments and questions. While we understand if they don’t want to give a wrong on-the-spot answer, more give-and-take could help citizens understand the issues better and show they are listening and responsive to concerns.
Since Moran is a relative unknown, perhaps she could be a good conduit to the public.
The Herald recommends Rich Buel, Bob Perkes, Gail Brown and Kate Moran for the West Richland City Council.