4 men vie for 2 spots on ballot for Franklin County commissioner

Franklin County Commissioner Bob Koch has two city council members and a former cop in his way of winning a third term in office.

Pasco City Councilman Al Yenney, former Pasco police Officer Patrick E. Barnett and Connell City Councilman Lee Barrow, who also is a Franklin County sheriff's detective, are challenging Koch in Tuesday's primary.

Only the two top vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 6 general election. All four candidates are Republicans.

Franklin County commissioners are paid $89,780.

Barrow and Barnett say discovery of the embezzlement of several million dollars from the county's Public Works Department earlier this year is one reason they are running for the commission.

Yenney said he wants to be a stronger voice to help Pasco and Franklin County work better together to save taxpayers money.

Yenney said he won't make an issue out of the embezzlement until the independent report is made public or the case is completed.

The future of the TRAC facility in Pasco, with its prospects of transforming into an aquatics center, and a proposed annexation of about 4,000 residents in a doughnut hole area on the west end of the city are two other issues facing the candidates.

This is Barrow's second attempt to replace Koch, who defeated him in 2008.

Barrow, 45, grew up on a farm in North Franklin County and began his career in law enforcement with the county in 1988. He said he believes the area targeted for annexation by Pasco should remain in the county.

He also favors keeping TRAC as it is, calling it a viable operation.

"I don't think it should be changed over to an aquatic center," Barrow said.

The Connell councilman, who was elected in 2010, said he is concerned commissioners have taken pay raises in the past while being wasteful on spending.

"I thought the pay raise came at a bad time. They were cutting positions at the same time," Barrow said.

The embezzlement "made matters worse" and has jeopardized residents' quality of life because of commissioners' past poor choices, Barrow said in his online candidate's statement.

"The commissioners had an opportunity to get to the bottom of it and didn't," he said.

Barrow has been married 24 years and raised three daughters.

Koch entered politics eight years ago after more than 35 years in fire service as a volunteer, chief and fire marshal in Connell and Franklin County.

He also was a self-employed automobile electrical mechanic from 1964 until a fire in 2001 destroyed the business.

Koch wants another four years to see two, long-term projects completed for the county: public access to Juniper Dunes and construction of a new jail.

"I'd like to see them through," Koch said.

As commissioner, Koch also has worked on the Road 100 extension in west Pasco and served on two dozen boards and commissions.

Koch said he doesn't believe TRAC should be converted into a regional aquatic center unless the agricultural activities at TRAC can continue elsewhere.

He also said the 3.5 square miles of doughnut hole in west Pasco should remain in the county.

"I'm OK with it the way it is," Koch said, noting the city is forcing the issue on citizens, who should be allowed to decide the issue.

Koch is endorsed by the state and Franklin County Farm Bureau organizations, and remains active in community groups in Connell and Pasco.

Yenney wants to see a stronger working relationship between Pasco and the county.

A 40-year county resident, Yenney grew up on a family farm in North Franklin County. He has lived in Pasco for 15 years and operated a vehicle repair business for several years.

Yenney is concerned that putting an aquatics center at TRAC might leave the county without any facilities for staging ag-related events.

He said he also doubts the county will get the price it wants for relinquishing TRAC to the city and Pasco Public Facilities District.

Yenney said he voted to have the city take over TRAC on the condition that the aquatics center be in Pasco.

As a city councilman, he voted against forcing the annexation.

"Despise that method. And I'm not sure it is economically sound to annex it," he said.

Yenney said he can bring a strong will, without tunnel vision, to the commission, and that he believes in open and transparent government.

"I feel I've done a good job for the city, and I want to start having joint city and county workshops," he said.

Yenney is a 1964 graduate of Pasco High School and a decorated veteran who served in Vietnam.

Barnett said his main reason for running for Position 2 is because the commission failed to take action to stop the embezzlement in the public works office when the fraud first was discovered in 2009.

"It was a debacle," said Barnett, who resigned as a Pasco police officer in June, shortly after filing as a candidate for the commission.

"We need a new generation of leadership," he said.

Koch should have been more involved in following up at the first sign of the missing money, Barnett said.

Barnett has law enforcement training in crisis intervention, drug recognition and working with gangs. He was a Navy diver and received training as a senior customs border/clearance agent.

Barnett said converting TRAC to an aquatic center has merit.

"We need a destination-type facility, and TRAC isn't it, as evidenced by the $400,000 a year it is losing," he said.

Barnett also said doughnut residents shouldn't be forced into annexing into Pasco, but choosing to form their own island city isn't the answer.

"That just doesn't appear to be feasible," he said.

Barnett, a 1989 graduate of Kennewick High School, studied animal science at the University of Wisconsin and Georgia Military College.

He said as a commissioner he would reorganize county government to bring more accountability into the structure to avoid future problems such as the embezzlement.

Barnett, who had lived in Kennewick until April, said he changed his address to Eltopia so he could run for the Franklin County office.

He is married, has four children and belongs to the Knights of Columbus and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Barnett said he voluntarily resigned as a Pasco officer in order to become a candidate for the commission.