Remembering former Kennewick Mayor Steve Young
Steve Young may have been Kennewick’s second-longest serving mayor, but he was remembered Friday as a champion for anything that united the Tri-Cities.
Young, 69, died Thursday from complications from cancer.
The Oklahoma native moved with his wife, Anita, and children to the Tri-Cities, settling in Kennewick while he worked his way through the ranks of what became Mission Support Alliance, a Department of Energy Hanford contractor.
The Youngs were heavily involved with Kennewick schools when their three children were young.
He ventured into city politics in December 2008, when the Kennewick City Council appointed him to succeed Jim Beaver, the city’s longest-serving mayor. A month later, he was selected to serve as the city’s mayor, a post he held until 2017.
Back in 2009, Young was one of several new mayors working to learn the ropes. Pasco’s Mayor Matt Watkins also was one.
Watkins said he’d worked with Young at Hanford in 1990s, he as a cubicle dweller and Young as an executive. They knew each other in passing.
When they both became mayors, Young instigated monthly lunches for the mayors of the four cities. It set the stage for municipal leaders to hold an ongoing conversation about issues that affected the region.
Watkins said the ongoing lunches have broken down barriers and created a greater sense of the community. Young, he said, was always in the middle of those conversations.
Richland Mayor Bob Thompson and former Kennewick Mayor Brad Fisher both said Young was a visionary who viewed the Tri-Cities as a single community.
“He always felt what’s best for the community is what’s best for Kennewick,” said Fisher.
Fisher’s council term didn’t overlap with Young’s, but city politics were always on display at the Tri-Cities Country Club, where they golfed together.
Thompson said the Tri-Cities lost a great leader and a driving force for getting mayors together on a regular basis.
“He was a good mentor to us about how to make the Tri-Cities a more unified community,” Thompson said.
Colleagues and constituents relayed countless occasions where Young’s showed his commitment to his public role by tending to details.
Matthew Bishop recalled turning to Young for help with a landlord-tenant issue. Young helped get it solved, said Bishop who lives in Kennewick.
“Steve was the type of guy, when you had an issue, he worked with you to try to get it taken care of,” said Bishop. “I don’t think there was a mean bone in his body.”
Friend to labor
Young was a friend to labor, said Austin DePaolo, spokesman for Teamsters Local 839, which represents corrections officers and other workers in the Mid-Columbia.
In 2017, Young, then the mayor, spoke at the union’s first-ever United Way Union breakfast, where union members came together to support United Way.
“He really cared about communities and working families,” said DePaolo.
He credited Young with putting together a labor agreement for the Link project that would have updated and expanded Kennewick’s Three Rivers Convention Center complex, if voters had approved a sales tax bump to pay for it.
They didn’t and the project stalled, but DePaolo said it showed Young’s commitment to the welfare of Kennewick workers.
“He wanted to keep tax dollars in the community and make sure they supported family-wage jobs,” he said.
A community loss
Dr. Guy Jones, an oncologist at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, recalled striking up a friendship after meeting Young through Leadership Tri-Cities, which trains future leaders on civic affairs. Jones was a member of Class 22 and Young spent a day teaching about local government.
“He was one of those guys who I instantly liked,” Jones said, praising his collaborative approach to growth and other challenges.
Barbara Johnson, manager of Columbia Center and chairwoman of the Kennewick Public Facilities District, visited Young in the hospital Wednesday night, shortly before he passed away.
“There’s few things you can point to that you don’t see Steve’s name on them,” she said, citing development in the Southridge area, the redevelopment of Vista Field in partnership with the Port of Kennewick, and construction of the Three Rivers Convention complex.
“It’s a real loss for the community,” she said. “I admired everything he did.”
State Rep. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick, began his political career on the Kennewick council. Friday was a sad day for the Tri-Cities, he said.
“He was a true leader in our community. His impacts will be seen for years to come.”
Young’s final years were challenging.
In April 2017, his son, Brandt, 44, died from cancer, leaving a wife and children and heartbroken parents.
That fall, a Benton County Superior Court jury unanimously awarded $8.1 million to a former Hanford manager, Julie Atwood, who had sued Young and Mission Support for retaliation and discrimination.
The verdict has been appealed, and Young retired from MSA.
The trial shined an unflattering light on Young’s practice of blending his work as a Hanford executive and his elected job as Kennewick mayor.
It prompted a group of Kennewick residents to file a recall petition against Young in his last year in office.
A Superior Court judge dismissed six of the charges, allowing the recall to advance on one count. Young appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.
Thompson, who is serving as his attorney, said decisions about continuing the case rest with Young’s family.
The Washington Public Disclosure investigated several complaints and concluded there did not appear to be an actual violation.
Hopeful and looking ahead
Young didn’t lose his taste for council work.
Two days before he died, he filed to run for re-election to his Position 7 at-large seat.
His name will appear along with five other candidates on the Aug. 6 primary ballot, said Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton. Two people had filed Monday for the same position. Three more joined the race Friday.
Washington law says only that city councils may appoint a replacement when a vacancy occurs. The city hasn’t yet determined how it will handle Young’s vacant seat for the rest of the year.
“The city of Kennewick has been blessed to have someone like Councilman Steve Young who has given so much, served so tirelessly, and has been an ambassador for the citizens of Kennewick like no other!” said a news release from the city.
City Manager Marie Mosley said he had the ability to “create a vision for our community, advocate for the vision and then follow-through to implement that vision.”
“I truly cannot think of an area in Kennewick that doesn’t have some mark from Councilmember Young,” she said.
Funeral services have not been announced.