Interest in local politics was never more intense than January, when the Kennewick City Council invited residents to apply to be appointed to an open seat.
Councilman Matt Boehnke had resigned after being elected to represent the 8th Legislative District in the state House of Representatives.
A record 31 candidates answered the call to serve the last year of Boehnke’s term. Chuck Torelli, a retired Hanford executive and a now former planning commissioner, got the temporary gig.
Now Torelli and two of his fellow applicants are running for election to the Position 5 at-large seat.
Chariss Warner, ministries director for the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission, and Brandon Pocasangre, a tech worker who is eager to be the council’s first person of color, are taking on Torelli in the Aug. 6 primary.
The top two finishers will advance to the Nov. 5 general election. Ballots were mailed in July and must be returned or postmarked by election day on Tuesday. Postage is prepaid.
Voters can register in person at their local election office up until election day under a new state law.
In Benton County, that includes the Prosser courthouse, 620 Market St., and the auditor’s annexes in Richland at 101 Wellsian Way and in Kennewick at 5600 W. Canal Drive.
The seven-person city council oversees the city manager, sets policy and develops the budget for the the city of 80,000.
The budget for the 2019-20 biennium is $357 million, including an operating budget of $117.8 million.
The base pay rate for city council members rises to $1,250 per month on Jan. 1, 2020.
Torelli, Warner and Pocasangre aren’t the only veterans of January’s appointment scramble.
Fortunately for Kennewick, the deep field of would-be appointees translated into a deep field of candidates for election in all three posts on this year’s ballot.
Two of five candidates for the Position 6 seat being vacated by Paul Parish sought appointment — developer Brad Beauchamp and current planning commission chair Ed Pacheco.
Two of four candidates for the late Steve Young’s Position 7 seat were candidates for appointment as well — Lindy Verhei and Jim Millbauer.
About the candidates
Torelli served on the Kennewick Planning Commission prior to being appointed to the council, where he is a member of the council’s moderate wing, led by Mayor Don Britain.
His priorities are to retain the city’s quality of life, economic growth, police and fire protection.
Warner moved to the Tri-Cities as a young mother. She first sought a spot on the council to ensure that future generations would have the same opportunity to thrive as her family.
She is running as a fiscal conservative and is endorsed by the Benton County Republican Party.
Her priorities include building a sense of community, economic development and core services such a police, fire and medical response.
Pocasangre is a Kennewick native who graduated from Kennewick High School.
He works in the tech industry and is running as a young voice who says he will foster positive change in the city.
At a recent forum sponsored by the Benton-Franklin League of Women Voters, they agreed that the Kennewick Police Department is mounting a strong response.
But they disagreed on the approach. Torelli praised work to bring mental health professionals to the beat but said the city can do better. Warner said she would foster work to help Kennewick residents get to know their neighbors. People need to come out of the house, she said.
Pocasangre, who has worked with youth incarcerated in the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Justice Center, said there’s a sense of urgency to the problem. He said Kennewick should look into the Hot Spotters program instituted by Pasco to identify problems and solutions.
Affordable housing — All three said the city can do more to encourage affordable housing.
Warner said the city can cut builder expenses through its permitting process.
Pocasangre would encourage developers to build low-income housing.
Torelli highlighted recent steps, such as a rezone that allows for tiny housing and grants that support low-income housing.
Legalized pot — Kennewick banned marijuana-related businesses in the city after Washington voters approved Initiative 502, legalizing recreational marijuana. No requests to lift the ban are pending.
Candidates in a separate race were asked about the moratorium at the candidate forum. The Herald posed the question to the candidates in the Position 5 race.
Pocasangre opposes the moratorium because legal pot could spark job creation in the city. The industry relies on a diverse workforce that ranges from retail workers to processors, producers and drivers.
Torelli would like to see the community vote on a referendum to measure local sentiment, which was allowed in the original initiative.
Warner could not be reached for comment.
Torelli has raised the most money of any of the 12 candidates running for the three open seats on the Kennewick City Council, according to reports candidates are legally required to file with the Public Disclosure Commission.
Torelli has raised nearly $27,500, most of it from himself and relatives. His top contributors include Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 598 PAC ($2,500) and the Washington Association of Realtors PAC ($1,000), Esprit Graphic Communications ($600) and John Lord ($500).
Warner has raised $4,220. Her top supporters include Jodi Pilot ($1,000), Elizabeth McKay ($1,000) and Kennewick City Councilmen Bill McKay ($625) and John Trumbo ($345).
Pocasangre registered as a “mini” filer and won’t raise more than $5,000. “Mini” status exempts candidates from reporting more detailed expenditures.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Chuck Torelli is a former planning commissioner but was never the commission’s chair.