A word of caution to our new Tri-City legislator who wants to do it all

The city of Kennewick is beginning to make plans to replace its aging city hall at 210 W. Sixth Ave.
The city of Kennewick is beginning to make plans to replace its aging city hall at 210 W. Sixth Ave. Tri-City Herald

Matt Boehnke has yet to decide whether he will give up his seat on the Kennewick City Council now that he has been elected to the state House of Representatives.

Trying to hold this particular job combination is extremely ambitious and unusual, and Boehnke is working with the city manager and city attorney to figure out his options.

Apparently there is no state law that requires Boehnke give up the city council.

Matt Boehnke.JPG
Matt Boehnke TriCities

The discussion, however, must be not only about what he can do, but also what he should do.

We appreciate Boehnke’s drive and his devotion to public service, and if he decides to go for it we know he will put all his energy into fulfilling his commitment to his constituents — both in Kennewick and in the 8th Legislative District.

But good intentions may not be enough to make such a demanding endeavor work well.

If he were in Richland, he wouldn’t be in this situation. Richland Mayor Bob Thompson told a Herald reporter the Richland charter does not allow city council members to hold dual offices.

Perhaps Kennewick officials should consider someday adopting a similar policy — at least it would eliminate uncertainty and confusion in the future. If Boehnke did give up his city council seat, his replacement would be appointed. Kennewick residents would vote for candidates in the next election.

Though in the meantime, while Boehnke is making up his mind, we have some thoughts on the issue.

For starters, Boehnke will be a freshman legislator and he will have a tremendous amount to learn when he is working in Olympia. We can’t imagine he will have much spare time as he tries to make political connections, respond to citizens and lobbyists, research legislation and navigate through the state Capitol bureaucracy. That means he won’t be as free to focus on Kennewick issues.

In addition to considering keeping his city council seat, Boehnke also is trying to find a way to continue his job at Columbia Basin College as the director and associate professor of the cybersecurity division. Veteran lawmakers have a tough time managing just one side job during the legislative session — two seems unrealistic.

Another concern is how Boehnke will attend city council meetings during the legislative session. If he can’t, then issues are more likely to end in a deadlock vote. There is a reason Kennewick has seven city council members.

Also, there could be conflicts if Boehnke finds himself having to vote at the state level on issues that affect city government. Would he find himself having to abstain from votes that would benefit the Tri-City community? We think it’s possible.

The next legislative session is a budget session scheduled to run 105 days, but two years ago lawmakers went into triple overtime and barely prevented a partial government shutdown on July 1. Extended sessions seem to be the norm, and Boehnke could end up away from home for more months than he thinks. That would be hard on him and his Kennewick constituents.

With his term on the city council ending in December of next year, we understand Boehnke’s desire to try and ride it out. He is a go-getter, after all.

With his background in technology, he wants to find out if it is possible for him to attend city council meetings using different tools available through the Internet. It might be that his determination to make it all work will lead to some innovations in city government, and that would be great.

But he also might burn himself out.

The best decision he can make is one that ensures no one suffers because he is trying to do too much ­— not his constituents, not his family and not him.