The 10 applicants for the vacancy on the Richland City Council that will occur on January 3, 2023, include several newcomers to Richland. Together the 10 have an average of 6 1/2 years of continuous residency with Andrew Rice on the low end at 2 1/2 years and Justin Raffa on the high end at 14 years.
The Observer obtained the applications through a public record request to the city of Richland under RCW 42.56.
Besides Rice and Raffa, Eileen Griffin, Ben Griggs, Carl Sarrazolla, Roni Gunnoe, Clancy Waldon, Ryan Whitten, Courtland Frauenkron and Todd Shephard applied for the position.
What the group lacks in residency longevity, it makes up for in geographic distribution. The neighborhoods represented include Horn Rapids, Westcliff, Meadow Springs, Willowbrook, Badger Mountain South, Crested Hills, and central Richland.
Currently four members of the council live in the Meadow Springs neighborhood. Two more live south of Keene Road. Only one member lives north of the Yakima River.
The council will pick up to six people to interview on Jan. 6 for the non-partisan position. The appointment requires a public vote of the council at the next regular meeting which will be on Jan. 17.
The council had to perform a balancing act of filling a position that wasn’t vacant. Mayor Michael Alvarez, who was elected in November to a seat on the Benton County Commission, hasn’t resigned. He will effectively resign when he is sworn in as a commissioner on Jan. 3 because the Richland City Charter does not allow a councilmember to also serve in another office. Alvarez’s seamless transfer prevents a lapse in his taxpayer provided benefits.
With little in the way of civic engagement experience in Richland, most of the candidates to fill Alvarez’s position offer their management and customer service skills from their jobs as qualifications for the job.
When Councilmember Brad Anderson resigned in 2020, the council interviewed two long-time city commission members and Theresa Richardson. The council chose Marianne Boring who had served almost 20 years on Richland boards and commissions. Richardson defeated Boring in the 2021 election.
After Councilmember Phil Lemley resigned in May, the council chose as his replacement a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) manager, Shayne VanDyke, who had no previous experience with Richland government, possibly encouraging similar applicants for the new opening.
Representing constituents is the job of a councilmember, according to council candidate Courtland Frauenkron, who has lived in Richland continuously for 8 years and currently lives in the Westcliff neighborhood. Frauenkron is facilities operations manager with Washington River Protection Solutions.
Frauenkron did not list his priorities but wrote on his application that he has been active with local veterans’ organizations.
Eileen Griffin who has lived in Horn Rapids for 10 years has an MBA degree and wrote that she would bring a significant background in business. On her application she listed 9 years working in wealth management at Gesa Credit Union in Richland. Before that she worked in California.
Recently she has written articles for the Heartland Daily News, an online newsletter that provides articles that are anti-choice on abortion and skeptical of climate change and vaccines.
“The three highest priorities I believe the city needs to address are safety and criminal justice, growth and development, and ensuring sound financial policies through periods of growth,” Griffith wrote.
This is the second attempt at obtaining public office for Ben Griggs who ran unsuccessful for the Richland School Board in 2021. He has lived in the Meadow Springs neighborhood of Richland for 6 years and is a neighbor of two current city councilmembers, Shayne VanDyke and Michael Alvarez.
Griggs is a project manager at PNNL and described how his management skills related to the job of a city councilmember. He also wrote on his application that he is active in his church.
His priorities are business growth, improving and modernizing the city, and homelessness and affordable housing.
Roni Gunnoe works as a para-educator, and also as a mixologist at the LULU restaurant in Richland. Gunnoe has lived in Richland for 5 years and currently lives in central Richland.
“The cost of housing is at an all time high. Most families cannot be in a one income household and are required to work 2-3 jobs just to support a single family. I believe if we brought in rent control it would help give back to our community in a positive way that will help our city prosper,” Gunnoe gave as one of her priorities, along with addressing drug addiction problems and snow removal.
Gunnoe wrote that she works with a non-profit charitable organization, The Tri-City Chive.
Justin Raffa, artistic director for the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers and chorusmaster for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra, is both the applicant with the longest residency in Richland, 14 years in central Richland, and the only one to have served on a Richland committee. Raffa has been chair of the Richland Arts Commission and now serves on the Richland Board of Adjustment.
Raffa listed as his priorities zoning and land use free of personal interests, development along the Columbia River shoreline, and supporting and implementing the strategic leadership plan.
Like Griggs, Raffa also has a failed run for public office under his belt. He lost his race for Benton County Commission against Jerome Delvin in 2020. Raffa also applied in June for Lemley’s open seat but was not chosen for an interview.
Raffa was charged with a DUI in September after a crash on Hwy 240 according to reports in the Tri-City Herald.
Andrew Rice, a chemical operations supervisor at the Columbia Generating Station, has lived in the central Richland area continuously for 2 ½ years. He listed his management experience and his 35 years of church leadership as preparation for a job on city council.
“My wife and I enjoy the pedestrian aspect of downtown Richland. It’s imperative that we keep our community a safe place to walk, even at night,” Rice wrote in describing public safety as his priority.
His son-in-law, Eric Eisinger, was elected Benton County Prosecutor in November when he defeated Richland Councilmember Ryan Lukson in that race
Carl Sarrazolla, an information technology (IT) specialist at Lamb Weston, has lived in Badger Mountain South for 6 years. He listed his IT experience and management skills, as well as his work with 2nd Harvest and his HOA board as a fit for city council. He wrote that as a priority he wants to find a balance between housing and commercial development.
Retired from Shephard & Shephard Insurance Solutions, Todd Shepard wrote that he is helping his wife Angie with her Richland business, Harmony Yoga & Wellness. He has lived in the Crested Hills section of Richland for 5 years.
“I believe the city is in need of quality and progressive conversations related to traffic flow regarding George Washington Way and Jadwin and finding ways to clean-up, remove, or restore older buildings within Richland proper to better encourage shopping, tourism, and safety within our community,” he wrote in his application.
Shephard has been active in the Tri-Cities Sunrise Rotary Club
Clancy Waldron, a power plant operator at the Columbia Generating Station, who has lived in Willowbrook for 3 years believes that Richland needs some blue-collar workers on the council. He listed as his priorities police, fire and school funding, and protection of natural habitat.
In addition to English, he speaks Spanish and Portuguese fluently as well as a little Guarani, a language of the Amazon forest in South America.
Ryan Whitten grew up in Prosser and has lived in Richland for 6 years, the last 2 in central Richland. He wrote in his application, “As a member of the Richland City Council, I would like to represent the people of my neighborhood to ensure that they are not forgotten in the plans for the city’s future growth and maintenance.”
Whitten, a Navy veteran, is an instrument and controls technician at the Columbia Generating Station.
“We may need to supply transient housing to those in need as well as drug rehabilitation. The City Council cannot allow Richland to go the way of some larger cities in which crime goes unpunished and people are allowed to squat wherever they desire,” he wrote as one of his top priorities.
Whitten notes that for a few weeks beginning in May, the Columbia Generating Station will have a refueling outage that would diminish the time he would have to devote to the position during that period.
Corrections: Justin Raffa is chorusmaster for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra and not music director at Columbia Basin College as previously reported. The DUI charge was in September not August.
Correction, March 20, 2023, The spelling of Eileen Griffin’s name has been corrected.