Longtime incumbent faces longtime challenger for Kennewick council seat

KENNEWICK -- Rather than calling it quits after 24 years, Robert "Bob" Olson is running for another term on the Kennewick City Council.

And right along side him on the ballot is perennial challenger Betty Klundt, who has tried to unseat him in the past four elections, and newcomer Gloria Tyler Baker, owner of a car dealership.

The top two vote-getters in Tuesday's primary election move on to the general election Nov. 8.

The Ward 1 council position pays $922 a month plus full health coverage. The seat is for a four-year term.

* Unlike Olson and Klundt who have years of political experience, Tyler Baker is running as a first-time candidate.

"I want to try help run our city into the next generation," she said at a recent candidates' forum.

As a Kennewick resident for 36 years and a businesswoman since 1978, Tyler Baker said diversifying the Tri-City economy is her main focus.

"There are a lot of challenges heading our way," said Tyler Baker, 52, who started with a family-run, one-hour cleaners and now owns Clearwater Auto Plaza in Kennewick.

"I've seen the boom and bust cycles here. And I fear what will happen with the loss of federal dollars when the Hanford cleanup project ends," she said.

"The Tri-Cities have done a good job so far, but I'd like to help get us more diversified for the future," she said.

Tyler Baker, who is married, said she has been interested in public service for years, and now that her sons are grown and in the family business, she has time to be more involved in serving the community.

"I'm the underdog, no doubt about that, but I'm pretty savvy, having built my business as a woman in a man's car world," she said.

Tyler Baker said she's a fiscal conservative who has worked harder and smarter to prove herself. "Now I'm one of the boys in the club," she said.

If elected, Tyler Baker said she would focus on getting the city fiscally stable, so it can survive the tough years ahead. She also would like to see more involvement by citizens in building a better community.

* Klundt, 68, rarely misses an opportunity to make a run at city hall. This is her sixth attempt to unseat Olson. She ran unsuccessfully in 2009 against incumbent Marge Price.

Klundt has been on Olson's political tail since he took office and unseated her on the council in 1988. Klundt served one term on the council.

Klundt, who has lived in Kennewick for 45 years, recently retired as a daycare provider, but remains a vocal critic of city government.

"I totally respect my city council, but I write letters to the editor to let people know what's going on. I'm a watchdog of government," Klundt said, whose husband is a Kennewick police officer and evidence technician.

She is cautious about the city putting so much money into developing Southridge, with its sports complex and road projects, in south Kennewick.

"We have lots of empty buildings around town that could be better used," she said, adding that Southridge is a big area to be served. "I want to know who will take care of (Southridge)."

Klundt also wants the city to "be done" with the historic carousel -- a stalled project that has tied up about $860,000 in city funds.

And she doesn't like the city doing "all these studies," referring to consultants working on riverfront area development ideas and proposals for Columbia Park.

"We have a lot of people at city hall who are intelligent and can do these things," she said.

Klundt said city hall would be a more user-friendly place if it had greeters in the lobby, similar to Walmart. "It would be good to have someone to talk to when you enter city hall," she said.

Klundt said she will put out signs, but will have a low-effort campaign and will spend less than $500.

"I'm just so glad to see all these people who have filed for office," she said.

* Olson, 79, has lived in Kennewick for 62 years and retired from the muffler shop business in 2009, though he still owns rental property.

This is his seventh campaign for city council.

He wants to stay on to help see through development at Southridge and help the city through what he expects will be a "tough challenge" economically in 2013-14.

Sales tax revenue for the city is stabilizing, which is helpful, but Olson said tough times are ahead, and "experience will matter."

Olson said the past few years have brought positive change to the city despite the economic struggles.

Switching to a hearing examiner instead of a board of adjustment, hiring Marie Mosley as city manager, and streamlining customer service to allow one-stop service for paying bills and getting building permits have been improvements, Olson said.

Once extensions of Hildebrand Avenue and Steptoe Street are done and the Southridge area is well established, redeveloping Kennewick's riverfront is the next big challenge, he said.