Record Kennewick council applicants is a healthy sign

Kennewick City Hall.
Kennewick City Hall. bbrawdy@tricityherald.com

That 31 people would want to fill a vacant city council seat in Kennewick is astounding and encouraging.

Many of the applicants told the Herald they believe the overwhelming, record number reflects a growing interest in politics at all levels.

If that is true, then Kennewick is heading in a healthy direction.

The more people paying attention to city government, the better. Communities are more likely to thrive when there is strong civic engagement among its residents.

In 2013 when the Kennewick City Council also had to appoint someone to fill a council seat, 10 people applied. At the time, that number was a record and seemed impressive.

But that is nothing compared to this time around, in which 31 residents wanted to serve out the remaining year left of former Councilman Matt Boehnke’s at-large post.

Boehnke resigned last month after being elected to the state House. A Republican, he was sworn in Monday at the start of the 105-day legislative session in Olympia. He had only this year left on his city council term and would have had to run for re-election this fall if he wanted to continue serving the city.

His departure generated a golden opportunity for new blood among Kennewick leadership.

With so many people wanting the job, the Kennewick council ran a marathon interview session Saturday. The open meeting started at 7 a.m. and went all day.

Applicants included several women — two who had run for public office before — business executives, community volunteers, retired people and others at the beginning of their careers.

In the end, the city council decided to appoint Chuck Torelli to the position over Chariss Warner, ministries director at the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission.

A member of the Kennewick Planning Commission, Torelli has been a familiar face sitting in the audience at both Kennewick City Council and Benton County Commission meetings.

He is a retired employee from the Hanford site, working mostly at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, and is scheduled to be sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting.

On Facebook, some people’s reacted to Torelli’s appointment with disappointment, lamenting that the city council —currently made up of all white males — selected another white male.

There is something to be said for choosing someone who won’t have as steep a learning curve when he takes over for Boehnke. Torelli’s long-time interest in observing the city council is a plus.

And yet, this does seem like a missed opportunity to diversify the council.

Torelli will have to run for office this fall if he wants to keep the position, and council members Paul Parish and Steve Young also are up for re-election this year.

Council applicants who still want to serve the city can get involved in a number of ways besides running for office. According to the city website, there are openings on the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Community Block Grant Board.

And with Torelli now a city councilman, his spot on the Kennewick Planning Commission will be open.

We hope the rest of the applicants — all 30 of them — will keep their interest in Kennewick city government in some way. Their willingness to serve is a good sign that civic engagement is alive in Kennewick, and we would like to see that continue.

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