Our Voice: Kennewick should go careful with new policy

Kennewick’s recent decision to allow nonresidents to serve on its boards if they own a business with its main office in town is a change in policy that should be monitored closely.

Philosophically, it makes sense that people who help set the rules also should live by them. This change is a departure to that thinking.

While city board members do not make policy, they do make recommendations to the council. Business owners in Kennewick naturally want to support the city where they make their living, but their interests can be very different from those of the people who live there. This potentially could pose problems when it comes to zoning or park issues, for example.

Councilman John Trumbo was the only dissenter when the city council voted for the change. He worries the new policy could allow a board to have a majority of members who don’t even live in Kennewick.

His concerns should not be easily dismissed.

The change would be more understandable if it was prompted because the city was struggling to fill vacancies on its boards with city residents. But a check on the city’s website shows that does not appear to be the case.

There are nine Kennewick boards and commissions listed, and the volunteer lists are full.

However, the planning commission now has one vacancy because a member had to resign when he moved out of Kennewick. City staff asked the council to consider dropping the city resident requirement so that Robert Rettig, a Kennewick chiropractor, could re-apply for the spot he had to leave.

We’ve no doubt Rettig was an asset to the planning commission and would continue to look out for Kennewick’s best interests even if he no longer lives within city limits.

But changing city policy to accommodate a singular situation is unsettling.

The Kennewick City Council has considered individual interests before. Last summer it decided to add more at-large positions so that two longtime council members wouldn’t have to run against each other after re-zoning put them in the same election district.

These kinds of decisions show a disturbing pattern. Even if the policy changes are helpful in the long-run, there is an appearance they are being made to provide a short-term benefit for a few people.

Kennewick officials who pushed to allow nonresidents to serve on city boards if they own a business in Kennewick say the change provides more opportunities to attract high quality volunteers who have an important perspective.

That’s true. And the selection process for many of these boards is rigorous.

But Trumbo is right when he says the change could lead to boards too heavy with non-residents. As council members proceed with this new policy, they should keep that in mind.