Election Update: Nail-biter emerges in Port of Benton race. Could end in a recount

Only five votes separate incumbent Roy Keck from his challenger Bill O’Neil in the race for the Port of Benton, according to updated election results released Wednesday evening.

O’Neil holds the narrow lead over the veteran commissioner, with 3,676 votes to 3,671.

The razor thin margin throws the outcome of the race into a likely recount.

Updated results did not alter the outcome of any race in the Mid-Columbia, although there are still thousands of ballots left to be counted in both counties.

The new figures showed Port of Kennewick Commissioner Tom Moak with a large lead over challenger VJ Meadows

Port of Benton

The hotly contested race came a challenging time for the port. The port’s longtime executive director Scott Keller unexpectedly retired earlier this year, followed by the departure of two other managers.

And there’s a new investigation into staff complaints about mistreatment by commissioners. Details of the allegations have not been made public.

O’Neil is a pilot who worked as a flight test engineer for NASA and later as a Hanford project manager.

Keck is a retired Energy Northwest executive who joined the commission in 2007.

Port of Kennewick

Incumbent Thomas Moak was leading challenger VJ Meadows with 9,999 votes to 7,023, or 58.3 percent to 41 percent.

Moak, a librarian and manager for Mid-Columbia Libraries, was admonished this year after the port hired an independent investigator to review complaints he and another commissioner mistreated staff.

The investigator concluded that some of the complaints were founded. Moak accepted the public reprimand and pledged to do better.

Meadows is director of the Tri-Cities Food Bank and is active in chamber and business organizations and said she would bring more transparency to the port and improve staff relations.

Tri-Cities election highlights

Richland City Council: Four Richland City Council incumbents, including Mayor Bob Thompson, all won re-election. Thompson led challenger Lillian “Randy” Slovic by exactly 400 votes, or about 52 percent to 48 percent. The other incumbents were leading their challengers by irreversible margins. Brad Anderson, 56 percent to 44 percent for Shir Regev; Phillip Lemley, 64 percent to Lisa Thomas, 35 percent; and Terry Christensen, 58 percent to Kyle Palmer, 42 percent.

Thompson will again receive a two-year term as the candidate earning the fewest votes, as he did in 2017. The council will select its mayor in January.

Kennewick City Council: Appointed Incumbent Chuck Torelli led challenger Chariss Warner by 350 votes, or 52 percent to 47.4 percent. Newcomer Brad Beauchamp held an irreversible 66 percent lead over Ed Pacheco to succeed Paul Parish, who is retiring. James Millbauer held a 581-vote lead over Russel Del Gesso, or 53 percent to 46 percent, for the seat vacated by the late Steve Young, who died during filing week in May.

Pasco City Council: Incumbent David Milne leads challenger Ike Myhrum by 65 percent to 35 percent. Zahra Roach leads Patrick Guettner to succeed Matt Watkins by 60 percent to 40 percent. Incumbent Ruben Alvarado ran unopposed.

West Richland City Council: Incumbents Fred Brink and David Fetto ran unopposed for re-election. Ken Stoker lost his re-election bid to challenger Kate Moran, who received 55.6 percent of the vote.

Benton Fire District 1 Proposition 2: The margin of victory widened to 1,561 yes votes and 970 no votes, or 61.7 percent to 38.3 percent. The proposition raises money to add sleeping quarters and an apparatus bay.

Next update

As of Wednesday, Benton County had counted 27,645 votes and estimates there are 12,000 left to count. It will update results after 4 p.m. Thursday. The election turnout stands at 24 percent.

Franklin County had counted 10,504 ballots by Wednesday, for a turnout of more than 28 percent. The next update will be 6 p.m. Thursday.

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Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.