May 20, 2020, Richland City Council cancelled their regular 6:00 p.m. Tuesday Council meeting and instead announced a Special Meeting for the next day, Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. for an “urgent” matter. The agenda that was submitted at 1:15 on Tuesday, with no clear mechanism for citizen comment, included a contract for $4,321,784.65 awarded to Apollo, Inc. of Kennewick to complete the Duportail Bridge. This was the purpose for the meeting according to Mayor Ryan Lukson on Tuesday. But the agenda also included a motion to join the City of Kennewick in buying a quarter of an acre of railroad right-of-way in the City of Kennewick for $300,000 and a council discussion of Covid-19. The contract and the railroad purchase were passed on the consent agenda in the time it took to read the motions. For the next hour, longer than many regular meetings last, the Council discussed how to change the state Covid-19 shutdown status for Richland.
The $300,000 quarter acre purchase is for an extension of Columbia Center Blvd to Tapteal Drive. However, there are at least two other privately held properties in the line of the planned roadway extension. If the property at 8236 W. Gage is paid $300,000 per ¼ of an acre, then that .81 acres is worth $1,200,000. The property behind it at 8301 W.Yellowstone is 1.41 acres and would therefore be worth $1,800,000. Had I been able to make a comment, I would have mused (you’re not allowed to ask a question) about what the projected cost would be to the City of Richland for this roadway which is in Kennewick city limits?
The council meeting agenda had a link to a form that residents were to fill out in order to be allowed to comment but when you went to the link, it said “Form has expired”. The agenda gave phone numbers that connected to Zoom but resident observers were blocked from being heard or seen. City Manager Cindy Reents said after the meeting that there was a 9:00 a.m. deadline for signing up for commenting but no mention was made of that on the agenda nor on the agenda page. See the agenda and the “Form has expired page” below. As someone who follows the Richland City Council more closely than most, I can only imagine how opaque this system would be for everybody else.
All of this took less than 10 minutes since Council had no 2-minute citizen comments. The Council then followed with an hour-long discussion about changing Richland’s status under state guidelines for opening businesses.
Mayor Lukson believes our Covid-19 infection rate is higher than other areas of Washington because the Tyson Plant and the nursing homes are “anomalies”. He suggested that the City join with the other area jurisdictions to write the governor to ask that the area be considered for Level 2 opening. Councilmember Bob Thompson went on a self-described “rant” in which he referred to some of the state shutdown enforcement as “fascist tactics”. Councilmember Terry Christensen noted that many Richland residents are government workers and have received pay throughout the shutdown while businesspeople cannot make money to support their families. Councilmember Sandra Kent wanted communication with the governor to include a request for more testing. Councilmember Michael Alvarez said that everyone has choices and no one is forced to go back to work. Councilmember Phil Lemley also commented on testing. Councilmember Brad Anderson was absent.
The Council voted to join with other jurisdictions to ask the governor to move the area to Phase 2 opening based on the two “anomalies”, the Tysons plant and the nursing homes.