Michelle Marcum has operated the West Richland golf course for 28 years. But now she’s being questioned about whether she qualifies to serve on the City Council.
The Benton County Prosecutor’s Office is looking into Marcum’s candidacy after she filed in May to run against incumbent Councilwoman Gail Brown.
Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton asked for the review after Marcum switched her residency registration from a Richland home to an address matching the golf course at the same time that she filed for the council position.
The change raised questions, but so far there are no official challenges to her eligibility to serve.
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Chilton said she asked for the review after Brown contacted her office.
Only voters can challenge voter status or eligibility, according to the prosecutor’s memo. That hasn’t happened.
But under state law, Marcum would not be eligible to serve because council members must live in the city for at least one year before taking office.
Filing week was in May. Candidates elected in November will take office in January.
Knowingly providing false information on an application for voter registration is a violation of Washington law. Auditors who suspect fraud typically refer cases to the canvassing board for review.
There’s no way in hell she lives out here legally. She has a house in Richland.
Gail Brown, West Richland City Council
Brown was ill this week and spoke only briefly about her concerns. She has not decided if she will challenge Marcum’s voter registration or candidacy, she said.
“There’s no way in hell she lives out here legally. She has a house in Richland,” Brown said.
Marcum did not return calls from the Herald to her personal and business telephone numbers this week.
Since Brown and Marcum are the only candidates for Position 3, the race will not appear on the Aug. 1 primary ballot. As it stands, the two women will face off in the Nov. 7 general election.
Chilton said the auditor’s office’s role is to conduct elections, not police candidate eligibility. It verified that Marcum was registered to vote in West Richland, based on her updated registration, and processed her filing to run for the City Council.
If the election proceeds and Marcum wins but is deemed ineligible to take office, that would create an open seat on the council to be filled by appointment. The second-place finisher cannot be declared the winner, Chilton said.
Regardless of residency, Marcum has a long history in West Richland, where she was the longtime manager of the city-owned golf course before agreeing to buy it from the city in 2006.
The relationship soured when Marcum filed for protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Eastern Washington in June 2015. At the time, she owed the city $1.27 million to $1.36 million, plus legal fees, and had missed a balloon payment after seven extensions.
Her Chapter 11 case is still pending. Marcum repaid her debt to the city on Feb. 10.
Bankruptcy records indicate the city withdrew from the case after receiving a wire payment via Cascade Title covering the full amount owed.