Benton City’s mayor faces three challengers in the August primary.
Incumbent Lloyd Carnahan is vying to keep his seat against Mayor Pro Tem Linda Lehman and political newcomers Steve Zetz and Cecelia Hickel.
The top two in the Aug. 4 primary will advance to the general election.
In Benton City, the mayor is the chief executive, overseeing the city’s day-to-day operations.
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The term is four years. The position pays $800 a month.
Carnahan, 78, first entered Benton City politics in the 1970s, joining the planning commission.
He eventually won election to the city council, serving for 24 years. He’s now wrapping up his second term as mayor.
Carnahan said he’s seeking re-election because he has more to accomplish, listing his top priority as economic development.
He highlighted several accomplishments during his tenure, from new businesses setting up shop to roadway improvements, including the reconstruction of Dale Avenue.
Construction on a long-awaited roundabout at highways 224 and 225 also is set to start this year, he said.
Carnahan, a retired construction plumber, said he has the time to serve the town of about 3,200 people. He also pointed to his years of experience in city government.
“I’m running on the fact that I really feel I have the knowledge and the time to continue improving the city,” he said.
Like Carnahan, Lehman also points to economic development as a top priority.
And she has a track record in that area which sets her apart, she said. Along with her city council service — she joined in 2013 and was picked by her council colleagues to be mayor pro tem — Lehman has logged nine years on the Benton City Economic Development Council board, including two years as leader of its revitalization committee.
She also served on the city’s planning commission.
Lehman said increasing wine tourism in the city is one key way to stimulate economic growth, and she’ll work to forge alliances with Red Mountain wineries to that end.
“We need to work with the wineries so we have a blend of businesses in town that’s sustainable and that will attract tourists,” she said.
Lehman, 69, a scientist for CH2M Hill, said Benton City needs a paradigm shift, and she’s the right person to help bring it about.
She spends hours going door-to-door talking to citizens about their ideas and hopes for Benton City and would keep that up as mayor, she said.
“I love Benton City and I want to see it progress. I think it’s been languishing too long. I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get involved,” she said.
Zetz is making his first bid for public office.
But the 42-year-old has experience in city government. He’s worked for the city of Prosser for a decade, serving as its planning director.
Zetz said improving recreation opportunities and quality of life in Benton City is a top priority. He’d look at parks programs and street improvements, among other areas, he said.
He also listed economic development as a key issue and said he would work with the city council on passing a budget that makes sense. He’ll take a close look at non-essential city services and contracts and “create a public evaluation process that will measure costs versus performance,” he said on his campaign website.
Zetz also said he would work with citizens and officials on a long-term plan for growth and development in the city.
With his background in planning and knowledge of city government workings, he’s a strong candidate, he said.
“I believe I have a skill set that would allow me to set the framework to allow (needed) changes to occur,” he said.
Hickel couldn’t be reached to talk about her candidacy.
In the Benton County online voters guide, she described herself as a nationally certified nuclear technologist.
She wrote that, “a strong mayor with solid vision is the key to greater success in Benton City” and that a more substantial tax base is necessary.
“We must develop our city utilizing our golden assets (location, transportation, broadband, established wineries, river) and knowing our potentials. Refocus priorities, rebuild the downtown and attract business for tax growth,” she wrote. “We must grow. Our (Economic Development Council) must perform. The mayor’s office must serve the people for such a purpose and to this I will be committed.”
For more election stories, go to www.tricityherald.com/election.
STATEMENT FROM CECELIA HICKEL
She couldn't be reached before the story went to press but later sent in a statement about why she's running:
"(In) 2008-2009, I became involved in broadband and the schools in Benton City. Students were transferring out and the new high school being built had 200 empty seats. I wanted to understand why as I had had four children in the Ki-Be School District schools. I have lived here in Benton City almost 30 years. What I discovered then was Ki-Be had no broadband. And because there was no broadband they could not offer classes to students and teach at the level of Tri-Cities schools. This fact then lead eventually to working with the Benton PUD bringing in broadband not only to the schools but to business parks. And it cut the budget for the schools not paying for old technology and suffering loss of bandwidth.
Yes, I am nuclear certified but I also have some IT and entrepreneur experience. Broadband is essential for all economic development. Education systems, government and our economy runs on broadband. Benton City has been wired for growth all of Carnahan's terms as mayor with little to show as a result. Carnahan has approved of the BCEDC (Benton City Economic Development Council) performance. Lehman was an officer of the BCEDC during most of this time.
Look at where fiber network is provided in Pasco and Kennewick and that is where the economic centers are located. Prosperity is all around us and even with fiber in place the EDC and the mayor has failed to bring in new business and strengthen the tax base for the citizens. In fact businesses have left the city. There is a reason for this and its time for new efforts."