Local

No one files to run for Mesa, Kahlotus elected positions

The small-town nature of Mesa and Kahlotus translates into a lot of work for practically no pay for elected officials.

That might be one reason the Franklin County towns lacked candidates for several elected positions after the statewide filing period ended last week.

The two Mesa City Council positions, the Kahlotus mayor and two Kahlotus City Council positions went to a special filing period that ends this Friday.

Vacancies in the races in Mesa and Kahlotus aren't anything new. Diana Killian, county election administrator, said it's been common for 15 years.

If no one files, Killian said the positions will be removed from the ballot and the incumbents appointed to two-year terms until the next city council election.

If incumbents don't want to keep their jobs, then their council can appoint someone new, she said.

Lack of candidates is not unusual in several Mid-Columbia counties. In Benton County, Benton City and Prosser had a city council position that no one filed for during the regular filing period. Walla Walla, Adams, Grant and Yakima counties have at least two small towns without candidates.

But each town has its own reasons, from not realizing positions were up for election this year to a large public records lawsuit hanging over Mesa.

Kahlotus

Kahlotus Mayor Patti Hamilton said she wasn't aware her position was up for election. Hamilton, a technical writer, was a council member when she was appointed mayor in November.

Her position and two city council positions that lacked candidates in the regular filing period are for two-year unexpired terms. Hamilton and the two current council members had filed for the positions as of Wednesday.

"I believe that everybody should step up to the plate and serve," she said.

Hamilton said community members have cycled on and off council. "There are ebbs and flows," she said.

Right now, the council is full, and morale has been improving.

Overall, there is a strong sense of community, she said. When someone needs help, other city residents step up. She experienced that in the past year when she was in a truck accident.

And the city of 193 could see some growth, now that new water hookups are allowed since a moratorium was lifted.

Hamilton said it would be nice to attract more businesses and see new homes built. That is needed to boost city revenues and make it easier to get loans and grants, such as for a city sewer system.

Kahlotus has septic systems, and most homeowners don't have room on their property for a new drain field if their current one fails, said Alan Rainey of Richland-based Spink Engineering, the city's engineering firm. And some lots can't be developed because there isn't room for a drain field and a replacement.

The city has been looking at building a waste water collection and treatment system for more than a decade. Rainey said the city is working to find funding for a plan for a system, which is the first step.

Mesa

Mesa Mayor David Ferguson concedes an 8-year-old public records lawsuit is one factor behind Mesa's city council vacancies.

The city has three council members instead of five, and the two empty positions lack candidates so far.

Donna Zink, a former mayor, sued the city for withholding public documents, and in 2008, a visiting judge found city officials had improperly withheld documents in 40 records requests.

The original judgment of $246,000 against the town of 489 now has reached more than $300,000 with interest, not including attorneys' fees.

Lacking a full council is something Ferguson said he has seen since he first was elected in 2000. Since 2002, he said he has spent more time as acting mayor than not.

Ferguson, who was appointed mayor last year, is running unopposed. A salesman for Tru-Door Inc., he said he feels it's a way to pay his dues to the community where he has lived for 21 years.

At least three city council members are needed to make any decisions and to approve bills. And with only three, Ferguson and Terri Standridge, Mesa city clerk-treasurer, said that can mean moving or canceling meetings to ensure all three are available.

Standridge is drafting a list of potential recruits for the two open positions. She hopes to get younger residents involved.

Mesa's population hasn't grown enough to make it easy to find council candidates, Standridge said. Its population grew only from 425 in 2000 to 489 in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

With the end to a water hookup moratorium, Standridge said two new stick-built homes and one new modular home have been built. And of 11 lots the city had for sale, all but four have sold.

Business owner Charles Grimm said he thinks the difficulty in finding people to serve in local government is more an issue of the economy, demographics and population, plus apathy and frustration with government.

"You are just pulling from a smaller number of people," said the owner of JC's Mesa Grocery and Deli.

Adults who are working and have families may not feel they have time to participate, said Grimm, a city planning commission member. He lives a couple of miles outside town, so he can't be on the city council.

And Mesa's Hispanic residents may be hesitant to participate, he said.

Some also may not be fluent in English, Standridge said.

Still, Ferguson said he thinks Mesa will pull through.

"Mesa's a nice little community to live in," he said.

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