The Richland City Council announced today that it will accept applications through December 14, 2022, for an upcoming open council seat.

Mayor Michael Alvarez’s seat became available when he was elected to the Benton County Commission in November. 

When the last open seat was filled, the applicants weren’t named until after the filing deadline. At least one resident wanted more transparency in the appointment process by having the applicants named as they come in. 

The council didn’t describe a method for informing the public in its press release. 

A council in flux

Alvarez was first elected to the Richland City Council in 2017. He first ran for a county commission position in 2020 but came in third behind Democrat Justin Raffa and Republican Jerome Delvin. Delvin, the incumbent, went on to beat Raffa.

Alvarez’s win, this time for the District 2 seat held by Commissioner Shon Small, represents yet another departure of a Richland council member, which has not had a stable membership since 2019. Councilmembers have resigned for personal or medical reasons, longtime council members have lost re-election, and at least one appointed member has lost election for the seat they were appointed to fill.

Despite the shakeups, most of the council remains residents of the affluent Meadow Springs area in south Richland. Alvarez, council members Ryan Lukson and Sandra Kent, and newly appointed councilman Shayne VanDyke live there. 

VanDyke, who replaced longtime councilman Phil Lemley, lives a few doors from Alvarez. Lemley lived in north Richland.

A peek behind the curtain?

Lemley’s position was the last filled by appointment. There were 12 applicants for the position. Three were picked for an interview. 

One candidate, Gregory Levy, had served on a city committee; the other two, KaeRae Parnell and VanDyke, had no experience with Richland city government. 

Resident Elizabeth Lugo emailed the council in May when it started taking applications for Lemley’s seat. She asked the city to list the applicants who wanted to fill Lemley’s position when they submitted their paperwork, similar to the Benton County Elections Office.

An email to the mayor and council obtained through a public record request shows that City Manager Jon Amundson responded to Lugo’s request by taking a serial vote of the council members. He told them in an email, “There is nothing that prohibits the City Council from providing this information; it is a matter of preference.”

There was no release of the names. 

The Observer reached out to council members to ask how they had voted on this issue and whether they would support listing the candidates this time. Only council members Jhoanna Jones and Lukson responded.

Jones said, “I think we need to make the information public as the applications come in.”

Lukson said, “I don’t remember how the previous appointment was handled.”

Only Councilwoman Theresa Richardson’s vote was included in the email when the vote was taken. She voted no, stating that the process had already started.

“If someone is interested in running, a candidate should not be swayed by who else is running or not running,” Richardson said. “It’s important to have a level of commitment that is your own voice, in my opinion.” 

When the Observer sent Lugo a copy of Amundson’s email vote regarding her request, she replied that applications for appointment to open seats should be treated no differently than if it were an open election. 

“In fact, they should provide more information since it is a FEW council members making the vote and not the public as a whole…hampering public view of information is not the role of a Councilperson.” Lugo said.