May 21 update: Kennewick Mayor Pro Tem Gret’l Crawford’s comments on councilmembers’ responsibilities have been added.
In 2022, Pasco city council members spent more time in city council meetings than either Kennewick councilmembers or Richland councilmembers.
They also had fewer absences and received the lowest pay and no benefits.
Pasco City Council met 50 times in 2022 – two council meetings and two council workshops each month, plus a meeting and a listening session. Kennewick had two council meetings and two workshops a month for a total of 45 meetings. Richland, with only one workshop a month, met 36 times.
According to meeting minutes and video recordings, Pasco councilmembers spent approximately 117 hours meeting. That’s compared with Kennewick’s nearly 79 hours and Richland’s 52.
“Certainly, we meet A LOT, and some of those meetings are LONG,” Pasco councilmember Pete Serrano wrote in an email to the Observer. “Meeting length is, in part due to presentations going long, and council engaging with presenters. I don’t know the right mix of that interaction, but I do believe that when council has strong interaction with presenters/the community, it advances/increases transparency, which should be the pinnacle of the council’s goals.”
At least one Pasco resident agrees with Serrano.
“I’m glad they have long meetings,” said Pasco resident and Observer contributor Leona Hassing. “I’m proud of the council in Pasco. They listen to the people and represent the residents of Pasco.”
Pasco City Councilmember Zahra Roach said that she didn’t believe that 50 meetings a year was excessive, adding that she also believes “that Pasco’s business agenda is reflective of the growth phase that it is in.”
Roach also said that she is open to making meetings more efficient, so they don’t end so late. She noted that members have full-time jobs in addition to their city council duties.
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As for pay, Pasco city councilmembers receive $1,115 a month for their service and no benefits.
Richland members receive $1,231 a month and Kennewick’s receive $1,300 a month. In addition, both Richland and Kennewick provide health insurance benefits for members and their family to those who ask for it.
Pasco’s lack of benefits puts its compensation well behind its Benton County sister cities. In 2022, then Mayor Michael Alvarez’s yearly compensation was around $40,000 without the extras for serving as mayor. Richland Councilmember Theresa Richardson wasn’t far behind with around $34,000. The other five members received primarily basic pay.
In 2022, Kennewick City Councilmember Bill McKay received about the same compensation as Alvarez. Three other members – Loren Anderson, Brad Beauchamp and John Trumbo – received compensation of around $46,000.
“Overall I view the Council work as a way of giving back to the community, and the pay is something that helps out with gas/extra expenses or time lost from my job,” Pasco Councilmember David Milne wrote the Observer.
Councilmember Pete Serrano agreed. “Local government is, in great part (in my mind), a service to the community, and the last thing I’d want to see is a strong financial basis/incentive to participate.”
At the same time, Serrano was open to looking at Pasco’s pay.
“I’m open to exploring our compensation,” Serrano wrote. “As I recall, we increased it when I first arrived on council (5 years ago) with an inflation adjustment, but we haven’t seen anything like that since then.”
Roach said she would also like to look at the pay issue.
“I don’t know what the right dollar amount is, so I cannot say,” she said.
Besides Hassing, the Observer reached out to other members of the Pasco community for their comments on the council’s workload and pay.
“I had no idea that it was that big a difference,” Caroline Bowdish, secretary/treasurer of the Pasco Public Facilities District Board, said after learning of the compensation spread and the amount of time the councilmembers spent in meetings. Bowdish is a Democratic precinct committee officer.
Steve Bauman, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party did not return phone calls asking for a comment.
Despite the number and length of the meetings, Pasco city councilmembers accumulated fewer absences, 20 total in 2022. Kennewick had 22 absences and Richland, with the fewest meetings, had 43.
The most meetings that anyone in Pasco or Kennewick missed were five.
In Richland, Councilmembers Ryan Lukson, Sandra Kent and Mayor Terry Christensen each missed nine meetings. Councilmember Jhoanna Jones missed eight.
The Observer emailed the four Richland councilmembers and asked whether they believed that they had enough time to serve and whether they felt their attendance mattered. None of them responded.
Time spent in twice monthly council meetings
Richland, unlike Pasco and Kennewick, only has one workshop a month, but it is possible to make an apples-to-apples comparison of time spent in meetings by looking at the 2022 twice-monthly council meetings.
Pasco leads there as well with 47 hours, compared with Kennewick’s 32 and Richland’s 35.
“Essentially given our workload – not just number of meetings – but duration as well, I think having a conversation is warranted,” Councilmember Joseph Campos wrote to the Observer.
Richland meetings are short in part because in 2022 they put 274 items on the consent calendars. Those items receive no discussion and one vote for all the items. Kennewick had 169 and Pasco had 106 on what they both refer to as a consent agenda.
“The Richland City Council manages a complex and full-service local government consent calendar consisting primarily of routine items grouped together and acted upon by a single vote,” Deputy City Manager Joe Schiessl told the Observer.
Routine is in the eyes of the beholder
Routine is not the same for everyone. When it came to discussing a regional agreement with Pasco, Richland, Kennewick, and West Richland to change the requirements for cutting roadway pavement, each council had a different approach.
Richland councilmembers passed the code change, referred to in their meeting packet as “right-of-way construction,” on the consent calendar on March 1, 2022.
Kennewick approved the new ordinance without discussing it by a unanimous vote on June 7, 2022. It was noted in the packet that the matter had been discussed at two workshops.
When the issue first appeared on Pasco’s consent agenda on April 4, 2022, Councilmember Serrano asked to pull the item until it could be presented to local contractors for their opinion. On May 16, 2022, the pavement cut passed with only Serrano voting no.
One on one meetings with the city managers
Richland City Manager Jon Amundson wrote the Observer in an email that he meets with a majority of the councilmembers one on one each month.
“It is considered a best practice by the International City/County Management Association,” Amundson said. “While I am not perfect at it, I believe communication (individually and collectively) is critical in building and maintaining mutually respectful and positive relations between the Council and myself,” Amundson said.
Kennewick councilmembers Chuck Torelli and Jim Millbauer said that Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley meets with individual councilmembers twice each month.
Pasco City Manager Adam Lincoln wrote that he also offers city councilmembers one to one meetings.
In 2022 Pasco city councilmembers met 19 times in an executive session during their 23 regular meetings. Richland had six executive sessions during their 24 meetings. Most of the meetings were about buying or selling property or legal matters such as lawsuits.
Kennewick’s minutes show no executive sessions during their regular meetings. The monthly schedule for June 2022 noted that an executive session would be held for 10 minutes on June 28 before a council workshop.
Since Kennewick does not take the minutes for workshops like Pasco and Richland do, there is no record of the meeting or how long it lasted as required by RCW 42.30.110(2).
That rule states: “Before convening in executive session, the presiding officer of a governing body shall publicly announce the purpose for excluding the public from the meeting place, and the time when the executive session will be concluded. The executive session may be extended to a stated later time by announcement of the presiding officer. The announced purpose of excluding the public must be entered into the minutes of the meeting required by RCW 42.30.035.”
The Observer reached out to Mosley to ask if there were any other executive sessions, and whether the city had complied with the requirements for the June 28 executive session. She responded in an email that the June 28 executive session was the only one in 2022. She also provided a written script with the required details of the session and audio recordings of Mayor McKay reporting the official times.
Other councilmember duties
In an email to the Observer, Kennewick Mayor Pro Tem Gret’l Crawford noted that council meetings were just the tip of the iceberg of councilmember duties. “There are 27 boards that Kennewick Council members sit on that represent Kennewick, divided amongst the 7 council members….We have events with legislators, ribbon cuttings for new businesses, new projects, with local business people and to celebrate successes of others that contribute to making our City and Region a great place to live,” she wrote.
Correction, May 18, 4:38 pm: Pasco’s City Manager is Adam Lincoln, not Dave Lincoln.
Update May 18: City Manager Marie Mosley provided details of the June 28 executive session.
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