Richland City Councilmembers surprised council watchers on Friday evening when they picked Ryan Whitten, a resident of central Richland, to replace Mayor Michael Alvarez who was elected to the Benton County Commission.
In a telephone interview with the Observer, Whitten, who will be the youngest member of the council, said that he was honored to be chosen, and he looked forward to working with the other councilmembers to create the future Richland.
The three other finalists interviewed were the new Benton County prosecutor’s father-in-law, Andrew Rice; Eileen Griffin, a writer for a conservative online newsletter, the Heartland Daily News; and Ben Griggs, unsuccessful candidate for Richland School Board who is also a neighbor of Alvarez and newly appointed Councilmember Shayne VanDyke.
In his application, Whitten wrote, “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 repeated that to the Observer and said one of his concerns was lack of sidewalks. He said that he sees children trying to decide whether to walk in the gravel or in the grass because sidewalks are spotty in some sections of his neighborhood.
Whitten admitted, “There will be a lot of stuff that I don’t know, but I will do my part to work with the council to solve the problems.”
Molly Petersen, who sat through the interviews for the open council seat at city hall on Friday afternoon, said she was surprised and happy that the council chose someone from her neighborhood. Other residents who attended the meeting had the same response.
Petersen said she was impressed that Whitten said that he wanted to speak for residents who were unrepresented. She said that Whitten seemed “honest and humble.”
Five of the six members of the council are from the area south of the Yakima River. Alvarez had been one of four members from the Meadow Springs neighborhood.
According to his application, Whitten has lived in Richland for six years. He graduated from high school in Prosser in 2004 and served in the Navy from 2004 until 2012. He briefly worked as a mixologist at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Prosser before he began working at the Hanford Site. He is currently an instrument and controls technician at the Columbia Generating Station.
Whitten will be sworn in as a new member at the Jan. 17 meeting when a new mayor will also be chosen to replace Alvarez. His appointment expires with the next election in November when he will have to run for the seat if he wants to continue to serve.