Councilmember Bob Thompson appeared as a name on a Zoom black square at the Richland City Council workshop meeting Tuesday night. During the two hours Thompson’s name appeared, he said nothing.
Mayor Ryan Lukson directed a question to Thompson. Still nothing. Was this REALLY Bob Thompson or someone masquerading as the man who never misses an opportunity to lecture on any topic.
Lukson explained, “Bob is under the weather.” Lukson was also a black square, but a talking black square.
Thompson missed the Feb. 16 meeting without making a courtesy call to Lukson. The council excused him anyway.
During the discussion about police deadly force incident investigations, Police Chief John Bruce assured the council that police officers have been well trained to consider people in the background when they start shooting.
Bruce lived in Texas when three Pasco police officers fired 17 times, gunning down a rock thrower in the town’s busiest intersection at rush hour. Investigators plucked bullets out of a convenience store, and a storefront, not to mention the victim, before giving up on ever finding all of them.
The police shooting discussion lasted for about 20 minutes with few questions from anybody. Then it was on to matters that the council really wanted to talk about – small four-wheel vehicles on city roads and speed limits for electric bicycles and scooters.
Apparently, residents in Lukson’s Meadow Springs neighborhood would like to use golf carts in their community. Kennewick and West Richland have already adopted regulations for their use.
The councilmembers had plenty of opinions on this, everybody except Thompson who said nothing.
Councilmember Phil Lemley recalled how he once accidently flipped a golf cart. Thompson did not even have a comment about that.
Next up, speed limits for electric bikes and scooters and regulations for shared scooters. Lots of spirited discussion on the pros and cons of these. Not one word from Thompson.
The council decided to request input from the public before proceeding with these changes. Thompson did not weigh in.
Richland City View’s official video of the workshop shows no black. Thompson has vanished, whoosh, gone. Check for yourself.
Thompson did not respond to a request for comment.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller wrote last summer that he supported body cameras for police. The opinion, part of a seven-page letter about his choice to not charge Kennewick police in the shooting of Gordon Whitaker, received little attention.
“For reviewing cases involving deadly force by police officers, the use of body cameras would be beneficial not only for the integrity of the investigation but also for the decedent’s family and involved police officers,” Miller wrote in the Aug. 20 letter.
The Pasco Police Department is the only agency in the Tri-Cities to use body and dashboard cameras. The department began using the cameras in 2019.
Miller also wrote about compliance problems with the new state police investigation law, WAC 139-12, that went into effect on Jan. 5, 2020. Miller mentioned the contribution of newly appointed community representatives during the Whitaker investigation.
This meeting will not be on television, nor will it be taped. You can join the party at 6:00 p.m. by going to the agenda and clicking on Zoom.
Police Chief John Bruce will explain the process for investigating the recent Richland police shooting. To get a head start on this discussion read WAC 139-12, the new state law governing the police investing police investigations.
City Attorney Heather Kintzley and Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky will discuss the use of wheeled all terrain vehicles on city streets. An all-terrain vehicle ( ATV ), also known as a quad, quad bike, three-wheeler, four-track, four-wheeler or quadricycle as defined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a vehicle that travels on low-pressure tires, with a seat that is straddled by the operator, along with handlebars. It is NOT a snowmobile or a golf cart (darn). Pg. 3-9
Director of Parks and Public Facilities Joe Schiessl will discuss speed limits on city shared-use paths. Electric bicycles and scooters and scooter sharing programs have inspired this discussion Pg. 9
Benton and Franklin county prosecutors have never concluded that a police officer needed to face charges over a shooting.
That doesn’t mean they see such shootings the same way, or even process them.
Lately, Benton’s Andy Miller and Franklin’s Shawn Sant have taken very different paths when considering these cases.
Two Black men shot and killed by police in the past couple years demonstrate some of the differences.
Miller closed the 2020 shooting of Gordon Whitaker a short time after the Regional Special Investigative Unit (SIU) completed its report.
On the other hand, Sant hasn’t moved on the 2019 shooting of Dante Jones. Sant got SIU’s report of that shooting nine months ago.
The unarmed Jones was shot by Franklin County sheriff’s deputy Cody Quantrell on November 18, 2019 after an on-again, off-again car chase through rural Franklin County.
Sant received the SIU report in May 2020 and the Observer obtained it a couple of weeks later. In response to a question about the status of the case, Sant wrote in a June 23 email to The Observer:
“I am still awaiting evidence to be evaluated and returned from the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory. I will not be able to complete my findings until I have ALL available evidence for review and consideration. These are serious cases of public importance. Every time a life is lost, we will look closely at those cases, especially when law enforcement officers use deadly force. I continue to review this case and anticipate completion only after all reports and any additional follow up information we may request, is provided.”
On July 23, 2020, more evidence did become available.
The Observer obtained Police Chief Curt Ruggles May 14, 2018 “counseling” memo regarding Quantrell’s record as a police officer in Toppenish, Washington. In the memo, Ruggles criticized Quantrell for some of the same actions that he took the night he shot Jones, including being overly aggressive during car chases.
The report was not included in the SIU report, and Sant did not indicate whether he had obtained it. Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond hired Quantrell later in 2018.
On September 23, 2020, Sant wrote that he was still talking to relatives and friends of Jones.
In contrast to Sant’s long deliberation, Miller announced his decision on Whitaker’s February 9, 2020 shooting a few weeks after receiving the SIU report. On August 20, 2020, in a seven-page letter, he explained why he had not charged any of the police involved.
At that time, Miller released a 420-page first installment of the 2,888-page report. The Observer obtained the report in five installments received between September 2020 and November 2020.
Only the investigation team and the prosecutor had seen the evidence when Miller cleared the officers.
SIU has two Benton County cases that have not been completed.
One involves a man who died in a police car on December 15, 2020 and the other, the wounding of a man on a pedestrian path in Richland on February 1, 2021.
Kennewick Police Commander Randy Maynard, who leads the SIU,, expressed concern about how long it was taking Franklin County to close some cases.
He explained that investigators spend months carefully going over all aspects of a case and writing a report. He said the lack of closure frustrates everybody involved.
Franklin County open cases
Sant has five unresolved cases; two are older than the Jones case.
Werner Anderson died in the back of an ambulance while in Pasco Police custody on August 10, 2018. Sant received the investigation report around August 28, 2019.
December 14, 2019, a man was shot and killed December 14, 2019, after stabbing two Pasco Police officers. Sant received that report about March 28, 2020.
Two unresolved cases happened after the Jones case.
A man died in a gunfight with Pasco police on May 17, 2020. The SIU submitted their report on that case September 21, 2020.
On July 30, 2020, a man sitting next to a small child in the back of a car was shot by police after allegedly pulling a gun. The SIU for that case was submitted on November 13, 2020.
Deadline for closure
The Observer contacted Sant on February 4, 2021 and asked for an update on the five open cases. He did not respond Miller explained to The Observer, “I don’t know that there is a time requirement imposed by law for prosecutors to make a decision. I try to make decisions in a timely manner while also making sure that the decedent’s family has plenty of time and opportunity to provide input.”
City Manager Cindy Reents’ departure after 13 years running Richland did not relieved the tension at city hall. Tuesday night five of the councilmembers bickered over how to replace her. Councilmembers Sandra Kent and Bob Thompson were absent.
The council disagreed on the terms for Assistant City Manager Jon Amundson’s interim city manager contract. The majority views Amundson’s status as probationary while they keep their options open.
On Tuesday night the council argued back and forth as to whether the interim contract should last until June 30, 2021, Oct. 31, 2021, or Dec. 31, 2021. They also debated the previously announced 10 percent salary increase.
Councilmember Phil Lemley favored hiring Amundson after a short probation period and paying him a salary and benefits commensurate with the compensation received by other city managers in the Tri-Cities. Lemley pointed out that Amundson had been assistant city manager for almost 13 years.
He said, “You need to pay what the job deserves. He can do and will do the job. We can hire Jon as city manager and have a smooth transition.”
According to the Tri-City Herald 2018 salary data base, the city paid Cindy Reents $197,101.60 and Jon Amundson $148,250.40 in salary and benefits. The increases since then have been about two percent a year.
Based on documents that The Observer obtained through a record request, Reents’ interim city manager salary in 2007 was about $163,000 in today’s dollars, almost equivalent to what the council is offering Amundson.
Christensen felt that a 10 percent increase was good through the probationary period. He added, “In a year, he could get a bump and be more in line with other Tri-Cities’ city managers.”
Lemley replied, “I totally disagree. You are penalizing him for a year. We may have the most complex city in the state. You sound like you’re assuming that he can’t do the job.”
Councilmember Alvarez commented that only a city manager with 10 to 15 years’ experience should receive Reents’ salary. “I have to be responsible to city taxpayers,” he said.
As she often does, Councilmember Marianne Boring tried to take the middle ground. While saying that she agreed with Lemley she also said, “The probationary period is customary. I’m okay with the Dec. 31 date.”
According to Mayor Ryan Lukson, the council needs until Dec. 31 to decide because, he said, “We work like snails.”
Lukson made a motion to have the council appoint him to work with outside counsel on the interim contract based on the council’s recommendations for a Dec. 31 end date and a 10 percent raise. Only Lemley voted no.
Lemley was the only councilmember to support Reents when she and the council agreed to part ways.
That didn’t end the bickering. While it was unclear what comment provoked it, both Christensen and Alvarez directed harsh words at Lemley during the councilmembers’ comment period.
Christensen referred to Lemley’s comments as a “rant” and then said, “Don’t tell people what I’m thinking. Your voice is becoming small in this matter.”
Alvarez said, “I appreciate your comments but don’t assume what I’m thinking.”
Lukson gave no indication as to when he expected the contract to be completed.
When Andrea Cameron went for an evening run on Feb.1, she didn’t expect to find herself within yards of a police shooting. Just a short time after she reached Duportail Road running north, Richland Police Officer Christian Jabri shot Charles Suarez on the trail ahead of her..
“Do police consider the safety of others?” Cameron asked. “I was on a very well-used pedestrian trail. It’s hard to stop thinking about it. In just a few seconds I could have been in the line of fire.”
Cameron described running at around 7 p.m. with headphones and a headlight to see her path in the dark. When she saw a police car with lights flashing, she realized people were running just ahead of her. She said, “I panicked and froze when I realized that it was some kind of chase.”
Cameron said that she had no idea how many shots were fired, probably because of her headphones.
She stayed at the scene as more and more police cars came. When she was sure it was safe to leave, she went home.
Cameron learned from newspaper accounts the next day that Suarez had wrecked his car, left the scene, and run from police. She said, “Unless he pulled a gun or killed somebody, I can’t imagine why the police would shoot at him on a pedestrian trail adjacent to a residential neighborhood.”
She responded to the request for witnesses to contact police that was at the end of the newspaper story.
She told the police interviewer, Detective Ryan Sauve of the Washington State Patrol, she was shocked at how easily she inadvertently ran into danger.
He responded, “You didn’t match the description.”
She said she wondered, “Did the police presence increase my safety that night or put me more at risk?”
She added that in the future she would leave her headphones at home when she runs.
Cameron recalls that he asked if she would feel threatened seeing someone running toward her on the path. She replied, “I see others running and walking on the path with me regularly.”
The Tri-City Herald reported that after treatment at a hospital, Suarez was released without charges.
Independent team will investigate
Kennewick Commander Randy Maynard is the incident commander for the Independent Investigation Team made up of local officers who are not connected to the involved agency. The team will investigate the shooting and provide their report to County Prosecutor Andy Miller and the Richland Police Department.
Miller will decide whether there is a basis for filing charges against the police officers involved. Based on the investigations that were completed in 2020, the process could take three to six months.
A new police reform law that went into effect January 5, 2020 also requires two community representatives. The police chiefs picked the representatives for their jurisdictions. In a telephone conversation that The Observer had with Maynard, he declined to say which community representatives had been chosen.
Numbers on the pavement
Cameron returned to the path the day after the shooting. She saw nine numbered marks on the pavement in two clusters, one on each path. While she wasn’t sure what the marks meant, she did know that one cluster with numbers 7, 8 and 9 was exactly where she would have been had she not frozen on the side of the road when she did.
Go to the city council agenda and packet for details on the city council agenda. The item numbers below correspond with the item numbers in the agenda. Page numbers following the item correspond to the pages in the packet.
Richland Art Commission will make two awards recognizing contributions to the arts. Pg. 4
2. Arts Commission Chair Dr. Jeff Kissel will discuss the 2021 commission work plan. Pg. 5
3. TRIDEC (Tri-Cities Economic Development Council) Annual Report from Karl Dye President. Pg. 6
4. PUBLIC HEARING — for Traffic Signal Systemic Safety Upgrades Project. I would like to tell you what this is about, but I have no clue. In Seattle this means making the walk signals last longer so a pedestrian can safely cross the street. The city will spend around $500,000 and receive a grant. Here’s what is written: “Upgrades project is designed to upgrade traffic signal equipment throughout the City, providing improved functionality at signals and making travel movements more efficient and safe through a combination of enhanced visibility and electronic controls.” City hall is closed Monday. You have Tuesday until 4:00 p.m. to find out what this is about and sign up to comment. — (go to the agenda for instructions on how to provide a three-minute comment). Pg. 62-65
PUBLIC COMMENTS – go to the agenda and read the rules. You get 2 minutes to talk about whatever your heart desires.
5. Approve Council Minutes for the Feb. 2 council meeting and the Feb. 9 workshop. Pg. 8-17
6. Bike Lanes will be added to Swift, Goethals and Williams when they are repaved and parking on other streets will be limited to make way for bike lanes. Check out the list. Pg. 18-30
7. The city council doesn’t want to listen to you complain if your sign application was rejected so your appeal will now go to the hearing examiner rather than the city council. Pg. 31-36
8. If you are thrown off your property for a public works project, you have to follow these rules for relocation assistance. I highly recommend good legal representation. Pg.37-41
9. Twenty-three homes will be squeezed on to 4.2 acres in the Clearwater Creek development between Clearwater and Center Parkway. Pg.42-58
10. Order of Agenda Items for Richland City Council Meetings is modified. Before you start scratching your heads, this is a typical Richland city process. They change, then codify the change years later. Apparently, the current agenda doesn’t look like it did back in the 1990s. Pg. 59-61
11. YIKES, just YIKES. Traffic Signal Systemic Safety Upgrades. This was the subject of the public hearing, item 4. You have until 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday to figure out what it this is about and call to put your name on the list to comment. GOOD LUCK. Monday is a holiday. Here’s what it says: “On February 14, 2021, notice was published that a public hearing would be held on February 16, 2021 to take public testimony regarding this proposed amendment. Barring any compelling public testimony to the contrary, staff recommends adoption of Resolution No. 23-21.”😂 The project will cost almost $500K but a grant has been obtained. Pg. 62-65
12. Councilmember Bob Thompson will be appointed to the Hanford Advisory Board until the end of 2021. Thompson told his fellow councilmembers during a workshop last Tuesday that he wanted the job and the council gave it to him. Long time Richland representative Pam Larsen resigned last year. Pg.66
13. Expenditures — all checks written in January pg. 67-147
14. The city will rezone 3.1 acres at Steptoe and Center Parkway in Clearwater Creek from AG (agriculture) to C-1 (neighborhood retail). If you have anything to say about this, you’re out of luck. The case is closed. Pg. 148-161
15. The city will rezone 2.9 acres located at 1769 Leslie Road from C-LB (limited business use district) to C-3 (general commercial) so a Goodwill resale store can be built there. Interestingly, the Round Table Pizza Restaurant next door does not conform to the C-LB zoning and changing this area to C-3 brings it into compliance. Pg. 162-175
16. This Benton County Jail agreement will require the City to pay 7.48% of the net operating costs for the jail (based on a fiscal rolling 3-year average). This is an increase from the 2020 rate of 7.43% assuming net operating costs and bed days remain constant, this jail contract will cost the City approximately $1,300,000. Pg. 176-191
17. The City Council will discuss the terms of Interim City Manager Jon Amundson’s Contract. Pg. 192
BLAH, BLAH, BLAH This is when the mayor and council get to talk for as long as they want about whatever.
If the Supreme Court declares the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, thousands of Tri-Citians could suddenly find themselves without health insurance when the program’s total enrollment has grown.
About 31,000 Benton and Franklin county residents had no health insurance in 2014, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management. By 2018, that number had fallen to about 21,000.
Many of the newly insured obtained coverage through the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, which includes people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line.
The ACA also gave people like small business owners and others who were not covered by an employer an option for insurance.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last November about the ACA’s constitutionality. The court will decide by the end of June 2021.
If the law is scrapped, more families will find it impossible to pay for insurance coverage. Others may have to pay budget-busting premiums.
Some people with no insurance may put off preventative care if they cannot afford to visit a doctor. Not treating problems like high blood pressure and diabetes will result in unnecessary suffering and more expensive care as the conditions worsen. Neglect could also be life threatening.
“They make you beg for it”
According to one local woman I call Jane to protect her privacy, “The Affordable Care Act has been a real blessing.”
Jane said that before the ACA, she had to apply for high-risk insurance because of her blood cancer. Since this type of coverage does not usually transfer from state to state, she had to reapply when she moved to Washington.
“Over the years,” she said, “based on my income, insurance premiums have gone down because of the ACA.”
Without the ACA, more patients will be forced to apply for charity to cover their hospital bills. Washington requires hospitals to offer charity care for anyone below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $24,000 for a single person, and around $52,000 a year for a family of four.
Two indigent patients described the difficult process.
“Dolores,” who is disabled and on assistance, said that at Walla Walla St. Mary’s Hospital, “They make you beg for it.”
“I’m on disability and have no secondary insurance and I get food assistance and housing assistance,” Dolores said. “It should be pretty clear that I am an indigent patient, and they know well ahead of the game what Medicare agrees to pay and what I will be left owing.
“I told them from the beginning that I couldn’t pay,” she said. “They let me flounder and go to collections instead of trying to work with me from the beginning.”
The state requires that the availability of payment relief be publicly displayed throughout the hospital including the places that patients check in.
Dolores said she didn’t believe that the hospital’s efforts to publicize the availability of the charity care were adequate.
It took her a year to settle her bill, about $8,000.
Another patient, “Cynthia,” had a different experience. She arrived at Kadlec after being hit by an SUV. She received $25,000, the minimum amount of liability insurance that a driver must have, so she could hire an attorney to help her negotiate the system. He worked with the surgeons and hospital to reduce the bills. To prove that she was truly indigent, her lawyer gave Kadlec a picture of his client working at her low-wage job.
“I received bills after I thought I’d received all of the charity I applied for,” Cynthia said. “My attorney’s final (donated) assistance was to successfully pressure them to reconsider.”
Even with legal assistance, it took Cynthia over a year to settle her hospital bills, about $78,000.
State has limited protections
Washington passed a law to protect several popular consumer protections if the ACA is repealed. Insurers in Washington cannot impose life-time caps or exclusions for pre-existing conditions and adult children under 26 must be allowed insurance on their family’s plan.
However, in an Oct. 15 letter, Gov. Jay Inslee and state health officials told U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell that state law “provides no protection for Washingtonians who simply cannot afford the coverage.”
Inslee and the officials also pointed out that since the COVID-19 pandemic, 80,000 more people statewide have enrolled in Medicaid expansion. Based on the Tri-Cities population, that could mean as many as 3,200 more people here are covered under Medicaid.
Inslee and state health officials predicted “a total loss of $4.2 billion annually in federal funds for residents across the state who currently receive free or low-cost coverage under the ACA” if the federal law is struck down.
2. Annual Development Service Update – Kerwin Jensen, Development Services Director
Public Hearings: If there were any hearings, you would have 3 minutes to talk about them.
Public Comments: You have 2 minutes for public comment. You can phone and make your comment (instructions on the top of the agenda) or you can submit them to be read by a city staff member in a flat, boring, emotionless voice. In any case, questions are forbidden. Councilmembers will sit there with a straight face and appear to be listening.
Consent Calendar: This is where they put things like 15-year leases on city docks. No one will say a word and there will be one vote on all at the end.
3. Minutes: Jan.19 and Jan.26 city council meeting minutes will be approved. Pg.8-15 These minutes tell you next to nothing about what happened at the city council meeting. But this exciting news is recorded: January 19 Councilmember Marianne Boring moved to take a land sale contract off the consent calendar because of “naming inconsistencies between the purchase and sale agreement and the proposed resolution and asked that the inconsistencies be remedied before execution of the documents.” Wonders never cease at Richland City Council. Somebody asked to remove something from the consent calendar for discussion.
Ordinances – First Reading
4. This ordinance outlines restrictions for relocation assistance for people who are evicted from their property after an eminent domain proceeding takes it for a public project. All the many deadlines for appealing decisions have been listed. I hope anyone whose property is taken has a good attorney. This deserves a discussion but fat chance of that. Pg.16-20.
Ordinances – Second Reading & Passage
Resolutions – Adoption
5. The Council will distribute $145,000 from the Business License Reserve Fund — $25,000 for the business recovery and resiliency program, $14,000 for stage-2 businesses looking to expand, $6,000 for the Uptown Business District alley art program and $100,000 for the commercial façade improvement program. This leaves $22,690 left in the fund. Pg. 21-23
6. The Port of Benton will pay the city $300,000 to be included in the city’s slurry seal road preservation project. The city will put the slurry seal program up for bid. The approved Richland 2021 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) has authorized $2,230,000 for the 2021 Pavement Preservation Program. If you read Randy’s Rundown for Jan. 19, you should be up to speed now on pavement preservation. Pg. 24-29
7. This authorizes an agreement with TRIDEC for Marketing and Representation Services. TRIDEC maintains a list of city properties on its website. You can read 16 pages about what TRIDEC is doing to promote the Tri-Cities. Pg. 30-46
8. Oops, another city boo-boo. This corrects the city’s compensation plan for unaffiliated employees to include an inflation adjustment that was omitted when it was approved on November 17, 2020. As an example, look at the first person on the list, “Accountant.” In November, the minimum hourly wage was $32.26 but with the 1.3 percent adjustment, the minimum is now $32.68. The item first appeared on the no questions asked consent calendar just like this one does. Pg. 47-52.
9. The city is responsible for building major roads and one way they pay for that is via development impact fees charged to home buyers. Viking Builders completed road improvements on Gage and the cost exceeded the impact fees from their development, The Reserve at Summerview Terrace. Since it was the responsibility of the city to pay for the road, Viking will receive the overage $266,250.06 in installments from impact fees collected elsewhere. The first installment is $50,000 and Viking will be paid the remainder quarterly as fees become available. Pg.53-60.
10. Intermountain Materials Testing & Geotechnical will be awarded a 5-year contract not to exceed $75,000 a year for materials testing services. The company will test cement, asphalt and other materials to assure that it meets applicable standards. Four companies submitted bids. Intermountain was founded by Marianne Boring and her husband. This could be a conflict of interest for Boring. By definition a conflict of interest occurs when a party has competing interests or loyalties. A conflict of interest does not just apply to a “financial” conflict.
11. The city has agreed to a settlement regarding sewer and water service to Jolene and Michael Grimes who purchased their property at 1061 Allenwhite Drive in 2008. Somehow, the city limits went around a few acres there, possibly because development occurred around an older existing home. In 2002 the city agreed to extend water and sewer to that home. After the Grimes purchased the home in 2008 and divided the lot into 1061 and 1063, they asked the city to extend the water and sewer to the second lot. The city said the 2002 agreement only applied to one lot and advised the Grimes to apply for annexation. They have applied. While annexation is going through the process the city is providing the water and sewer to the second lot at the expense of the owner. Pg. 77-82
Items – Approval
Expenditures – Approval
Items of Business:
Reports and Comments:
blah, blah, blah
At the end of the Jan. 19 meeting Thompson pitched ivermectin as a drug for treatment and prevention of COVID. Ivermectin is an ingredient in canine heartworm medicine and in head lice remedies. This drug along with every other drug on the planet is being STUDIED for use against COVID but Bob is ready to prescribe it to the masses. I just hope he doesn’t have a dog.
Executive Session: Secret session to evaluate qualifications of an applicant or to review the performance of an employee (60 minutes).
Is this about the terms of Cindy Reent’s termination agreement??? The council meeting minutes for the December 15, 2020 meeting says: “City of Richland and City Manager Reents have mutually agreed to enter into a separation agreement, although the terms of the agreement have yet to be finalized.” The finalized agreement must be approved in open session.
In what sounded at times more like a sales pitch than a Richland City Council workshop meeting, City Parks and Facilities Director Joe Schiessl tried to sell the council on a contract the council approved on Dec. 15.
Councilmembers clearly had second thoughts.
Councilmember Michael Alvarez interrupted Schiessl’s presentation at the Jan. 26 meeting to say, “Why didn’t we get this workshop prior to Dec. 15, 2020 ?”
Schiessl responded, “That’s a great question. There are a lot of ways for staff and council to interact.”
Mayor Ryan Lukson said, “It’s clear that there was a policy decision made here and we didn’t have enough information.” He added, “No one on council knew we were making a tradeoff decision.”
The council’s Dec. 15 agenda packet included the contract and other information on pages 91-106. No councilmember asked a question about it before they voted to approve it.
The contract allows American Cruise Line (ACL) to control the use of the Lee Street dock for the next 15 years for $45,000 the first year.
Schiessl said, “The city is out of the dock scheduling business.”
The contract leaves three other cruise companies, American Queens Steamboat Company (AQSC), Lindblad Expeditions, and Uncruise Adventures high and dry.
ACL said in council documents that it predicts it will double the number of passengers it currently brings to Richland by adding two new vessels in 2022.
Schiessl repeated the claim Tuesday as a way of justifying the contract.
According to Schiessl, ACL currently brings about 12,000 passengers to Richland. AQSC brings 7,500, and the other two lines combined bring about 1,000.
ACL’s contract requires that it allows other cruise lines to make reservations one year in advance for dates that ACL doesn’t use.
AQSC representative Eric Denley told the council Jan. 15 that his line prepares its schedule two or three years in advance. He said AQSC would not be able to dock here under the new contract.
Denley expressed disappointment that his company was not included earlier in the discussions.
AQSC and ACL’s websites show the companies are accepting reservations for 2022 cruises that come to the Richland dock.
Lee Street dock took three years to plan and build along the shoreline the city already owned. The dock was completed in 2004 and cost $591,000, not counting staff salaries.
The city hasn’t charged user fees because the city looked at the dock as an economic development tool, Schiessl said.
He estimated that with the possible increase in traffic from ACL in 2022, the cruise ships could bring $5.5 million in tourist dollars to the Tri-Cities area.
“ACL is digging deep and making very significant capital investment in ships,” Schiessl said. “They desire to have exclusive control of the facilities at every port of call.”
He promoted the idea of a new dock to be built by ACL at Columbia Point and showed a conceptual drawing of the dock site, including commercial development around it and a city park, but he also admitted, “We certainly don’t have an agreement for a new dock or a timeframe.”
Councilmember Terry Christensen admitted that he probably should have asked more questions on Dec. 15. He said he did not want to lose customers speculating on what might happen in the future. We’re taking care of the big guy instead of taking care of them all. He asked, “Can we revise our agreement?”
Lukson, an attorney, said, “There’s no wiggle room in the contract.”
Councilmember Bob Thompson, also an attorney, added that contracts are not written to accommodate the whims of city councilmembers.
“Everybody is going to work together and hopefully we will reach a kumbaya moment,” Lukson said.
The Richland City Council regularly approves multiple items on a consent calendar with one vote and no discussion. Over a month after voting on Dec. 15 for 14 items that included a 15-year contract for American Cruise Line (ACL) to take over the Lee Street Dock, Richland City Council members say they need more information.
The councilmembers had second thoughts when the attorney for the competing cruise line, American Queen Steamboat Company, complained about the contract during citizen comments at the Jan. 19 city council meeting.
The contract requires that ACL pay the city $45,000 the first year to have priority docking. ACL must provide reservations to other businesses one year in advance.
According to American Queen’s Eric Denley, “It practically makes it impossible for a company like ours to come to Richland.” Denley explained that American Queen schedules two to three years in advance and is working on its 2023 schedule now.
Denley pointed out that his company’s cruises brought 12,102 visitors to Richland in 2019 and contributed $2.7 million to the local economy.
Mayor Ryan Lukson said later in the meeting, “I wasn’t aware of some of the details that Mr. Denley brought forward.”
Councilmembers Phil Lemley, Sandra Kent and Terry Christensen also said that they would like more information. The packet that accompanies the agenda for the Dec. 15 meeting included the contract on pages 92-106.
Lukson, Kent and Councilmember Bob Thompson are attorneys.
Any member of the council can ask to have a consent calendar item pulled for discussion and a separate vote, but on Dec. 15 no one asked to pull the dock contract.
Lukson and Director of Parks and Facilities Joe Schiessl declined to answer The Observer’s questions about the status of the contract and how much the cruise ships paid for docking in 2019, the last normal year for cruises.
The cover sheet and resolution for the contract approval mention that “talks are underway” about a new dock that ACL will build at Columbia Point, but Denley pointed out during citizen comment that there is no requirement in the contract for such a dock.
Astoria, Oregon awarded a contract to ACL in 2019 to manage their dock after a bidding process that included American Queen. The Observer spoke with Astoria Public Works Director Jeff Herrington who said the contract had worked out well for the city and he had not heard any complaints about scheduling.
In a phone call with Denley, he told The Observer, “We found out earlier in the process and were able to get some certainty in that contract.”
According to Denley, the Richland contract has already been signed. He said that while he was disappointed that his company had not had the opportunity to participate in the process, he appreciated that city staff had reached out to him the day after his comments and offered to assist his company in finding an alternative.
The Richland City Council plans to discuss the matter at its Jan. 26 council workshop session that begins at 6:00 p.m.
Correction: Item 4, the City of Richland is selling the property not buying the property.
Page numbers given below correspond to the page numbers of the packet items. To make a public comment see instructions on the agenda which is on the first page of the packet.
City Council Workshop – 5:00 p.m. via Zoom
Executive Session to Evaluate the qualifications of an applicant for public employment (55 minutes). If this is a new city manager, the council certainly didn’t waste any time finding a replacement for Cindy Reents.
City Council Regular Meeting – 6:00 p.m.
Welcome and Roll Call
Pledge of Allegiance
Approval of Agenda
Public Hearing: Residents would be allowed 3 minutes to comment on public hearing items, but none are listed.
Public Comments: Residents can have 2 minutes to comment about anything. See directions at the top of the agenda, link above. However, residents are warned that the council will not “directly respond.”
Consent Calendar: These items receive little if any discussion and they will be approved with one vote. One councilmember can pull an item off the Consent Calendar for discussion and a separate vote, but they rarely do.
2. The council will approve the minutes from its last brief meeting. Pg. 4-9
Ordinances – First Reading
Ordinances – Second Reading & Passage:
Resolutions – Adoption
3. A $174.705 consulting fee will be paid to H.W. Lochner for phase 1 of a three-phase project to make traffic move faster down George Washington Way. The three phases include evaluating the S. George Washington Way/Columbia Point Intersection for improvements, selecting a preferred alternative, completing the design of the preferred alternative, preparing plans, specifications, and estimate (PS&E) package to be advertised for construction, and assisting with the construction administration/management. North Richland residents who want to see the traffic diverted from GWay to the bypass to facilitate better downtown development have vigorously opposed this plan, particularly the alternative that would take the ballet studio. Page.10-79
4. The city is amending its purchase agreement with Kamal Singh (owner of AK’s Investments, LLC) to sell 3 acres instead of 2.56 acres at the northeast corner of Kingsgate Way and Clubhouse Lane. The AK investment will pay $436,621 for the purchase of 3 acres, up from the previous purchase price of $336,501 for the original 2.56 acres. The acreage will be used for commercial development near the traffic circle into the new Horn Rapids Commercial Plaza.
5. Nasty, dirty stormwater runoff coming from the roads and other impervious surfaces around Hains Avenue will be treated by these facilities before it flows into the Columbia River. This authorizes an agreement for the state to pay ¾ of the $300,000 cost of infiltration basins in the grassy areas along the road and an infiltration basin under the road. The basin under the road will have a pre-treatment system to remove oil and other pollutants. Pg. 88-133
6. This authorizes an agreement with Energy Northwest for technical services. No cost is given but whatever it is, it will be covered with funds from the electric utility’s expert services budget. My resident expert tells me that this is probably for electrical engineering services. Pg.134-145
7. This authorizes staff to apply for state funding for pavement preservation of Stevens Dr. In case you didn’t know anything about pavement preservation, you will now. It includes chip seals, slurry seals, hot mix asphalt overlays, crack seals and other methods. According to the U.S. Park Service, “A key to successful pavement preservation is choosing the right treatment, for the right road at the right time.” For more go to www.pavementpreservation.org at the University of Michigan. Pg. 146-147
8. John Watson, who owns an existing business that specializes in nuclear-certified piping materials, valves, instrumentation, machine components, fasteners, and engineering services, wants to purchase 1.49 acres for $81,205 to expand his business in the Horn Rapids Industrial Park at the northwest corner of Kingsgate Way and Battelle. Pg. 148-163
9. The final plat of West Village – Phase 5 proposes to divide 24.6 acres into 114 residential lots and one (1) tract on a site located in the Badger Mountain South Master Planned Community. Sprawl, sprawl, sprawl Pg. 164-193
Items – Approval:
Expenditures – Approval
December checks for $39,427,358.45 Pg. 194-255
Items of Business:
11. The comprehensive plan is only good until a developer comes along and wants to change it. This amends the comprehensive plan for 300 acres owned by developer Greg Markel located in the very northwest portion of the City along SR-240. Approximately 177 acres will be medium density residential and approximately 123 acres will be commercial (from Public Facility). On page 266 Patrick Paulson argues that approving sprawl development discourages redevelopment in the downtown. Pg. 256-286
12. Changing the zoning to accommodate the above. Pg. 286-293.
13, Appointing Assistant City Manager Jon Amundson to be interim city manager and giving him a 10% raise for taking the job. Pg. 293-294.
Reports and Comments:
Blah, blah, blah and probably a lecture from Bob Thompson.
Since January 5, 2020, when a new police reform law went into effect in Washington, five community representatives have served on Tri-City police investigation teams. Each was handpicked by the chief of the involved agency.
The state Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) that provided the rules for the law directs police independent investigation teams (IIT) to be “completely independent of any involved agency.”
The relationships between police chiefs and their appointed community reps might jeopardize the integrity of the investigations. But with poorly described responsibilities and no training, it’s difficult to see what difference that makes.
The CJTC’s factsheet says community representatives will participate in the selection of police investigators, be present at briefings, have access to the completed investigation files, and be provided copies of news releases and communications prior to release. Aside from the briefings, which are not defined, this only puts representatives one step ahead of the public in receiving information.
Leo Perales became the first person picked to be a community representative on an investigation. He was added to the IIT for the February 9, 2020 shooting death of Gordon Whitaker by Kennewick police. Perales said that during the Whitaker case, “I didn’t know what we were there for.” He explained that he wondered how much authority he had.
The factsheet instructs law enforcement in the state to “solicit” at least two non-law enforcement community representatives from the death’s impacted community. Franklin County law enforcement agencies only choose two for the entire county. Walla Walla County did the same thing, but chose three. Only Benton County has two from each of the law enforcement agencies within its borders.
The Observer obtained the police investigation report for the Whitaker case that included emails about the selection of the representatives. According to Kennewick Police Commander Trevor White, “We tried to hastily come into compliance with the new law.”
The “solicit” part seems to have been a sticking point with Kennewick Police Chief Hohenberg and Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller.
In a March 2 email to Hohenberg, Miller says “You can interpret ‘solicit’ in different ways and that could include soliciting specific people to see if they would be interested. And that process could arguably be transparent as required by the rule.”
Miller suggested in a follow-up email that Benton County select two to four people, then join the other two counties in the investigation unit – Franklin and Walla Walla — in creating a roster of names.
Following that advice, area law enforcement agencies created a list of 13 names. The Observer spoke to 6 of them.
Of the 13, the two chosen by Pasco Police Chief Ken Roske have been serving simultaneously on two investigations of Pasco police. Two of the three representatives chosen by the Kennewick Police Chief have served on two investigations of Kennewick police.
Perales received an email on Feb. 11 from Hohenberg asking him to serve on the Whitaker case. Perales said that he had known the chief since he took a class from him years ago.
Hohenberg also suggested Othene Bell Wade for the Whitaker case. He then put her and Perales on the roster.
Chelsan Simpson had attended the Richland Police Department Citizen Academy and had met the Police Chief John Bruce there. A representative from the department asked if he would be willing to volunteer.
Simpson said that when he agreed to serve, he was told that he could be asked to be on an investigation in another jurisdiction. No one else indicated that they received that information.
Prosser had a slightly different process. Police Chief Pat McCulloughadvertised that he was looking for volunteers. People who responded received a questionnaire that they completed and returned. He then picked two representatives.
Brandi Thornbrugh of Prosser responded to McCullough because she explained, “Volunteering was one way to be involved in the community.”
Other jurisdictions have taken a similar approach. Pierce County, the Washington State Patrol, and the cities of Yelm and Shoreline have advertised for volunteers to apply to be non-law enforcement community representatives.
The appointees that The Observer spoke with lamented that they had had no training. An in-person training session planned for November by the police departments was cancelled due to COVID restrictions.
Perales believes that to protect the independence of the representatives, someone other than the chiefs — possibly the city councils — should pick appointees. He also questioned whether the police departments should be conducting the training.
Representatives sign a confidentiality agreement that’s required, but not described, by the CTJC. The document outlines penalties if representatives disclose confidential information before the “prosecutor of jurisdiction either declines to file charges or the criminal case is concluded.” They can be prosecuted for obstructing a law enforcement officer, perjury, or violation of the Criminal Records Privacy Act.
Understandably, this made Hector Cruz hesitant about answering any of The Observer’s questions because he is currently volunteering for two investigations in Pasco. All he would say was that he had been chosen to be a representative by the Pasco Police Department because he had worked with the department in the past.
Two cases that occurred before the new law went into effect have not been closed by Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant. Werner Anderson died August 10, 2018 in the back of an ambulance while in Pasco police custody. A Franklin County deputy shot Dante Jones on a rural Franklin County road on November 18, 2019. If community representatives had been on those cases, they would have been unable to talk about them for months, even years.
Washington lawmakers will be considering police reform measures during the 2021 legislative session.
Page numbers provided below correspond with the pages in the packet. See link above.
City Council Regular Meeting – 6:00 p.m.
Welcome and Roll Call
Pledge of Allegiance
Approval of Agenda:
Public Hearing: You have 3 minutes to comment on the following public hearing. Go to the link above and following the instructions on the agenda if you wish to comment.
The old city hall site at 505 Swift has utility easements running around and through the property. The utilities have been relocated. To prevent any issues in the event of a sale, the city is relinquishing the easements. That requires a hearing and council approval. Pg. 24-27
Public Comments: You have 2 minutes to talk about anything you wish but no questions will be addressed. You can ask anything you want but they will look at you with a blank stare. If you have a question, I suggest emailing the members. Some of them do respond. In other cities, councilmembers rotate meeting with residents one-on-one an hour before the meeting begins. I have suggested that our council do that but, of course, more blank stares.
Consent Calendar: The council approves these items with little to no discussion and a single vote. That way no one can be held accountable. One member can pull an item off the consent calendar for discussion and a separate vote, but they rarely do.
2. Totally worthless Dec. 15 meeting minutes will be approved. The clerk sanitized them. She left out Councilmember Phil Lemley’s ethics committee discussion comment, “Coming to the council meetings drinking or drunk is wrong.” Also omitted was Lemley’s comments about firing someone who does a good job in the discussion about Cindy Reents leaving. The minutes do include Lukson’s comments about objecting to Lemley’s “characterization” of the situation with Reents, but without Lemley’s comments, you don’t know what the characterization is. Minutes aren’t supposed to be a transcript, but they are supposed to reflect what happened at the meeting. In Richland, they rarely do. However, the meetings are taped. Go here to review those. Watch CityView | City of Richland, WA Pg. 5-12
Ordinances – First Reading:
Ordinances – Second Reading:
3. This item had a public hearing and a first reading vote at the Dec. 1 meeting. The city will annex 8.52 off Shockley Rd. that belongs to the Zinsli family and allow low-density zoning. The property will have 24 units at full build out with an estimate 2.6 person per unit. The city estimated costs and benefits but never mentioned anything about the impact on schools. Pg. 13-23
Resolutions – Adoption:
4. The relinquishment of the utility easement at the old city hall site has a hearing and an approval at the same meeting. See Item 1. Pg.24-27
5. Boyd’s Tree Service will be authorized for no more than $350,00 to trim trees and bushes around public utilities. This contract piggybacks on a much larger 2021 Benton Public Utility District contract for no more than $850,000. Pg. 28-32.
6. Efficiency Solutions, LLC, will receive a contract for no more than $250,000 to work with Richland Energy Services to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses. There are financial incentives including loans for upgrading windows and insulation or for installing an energy efficient heat pump. Pg. 33-45.
7. This reauthorizes the agreement between Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland to monitor Columbia River water usage. They share the cost of hiring a consultant to oversee the monitoring. On Page 50 of the packet, it says a proposed consultant agreement is included in Exhibit A. I could not find Exhibit A. Pg. 46-52.
Expenditures – Approval:
All the checks written in November 2020, over $27 million worth. Pg. 53-82
At the Dec. 15 Richland City Council meeting Councilmember Phil Lemley moved to reinstate the City Council Ethics and Administration Committee because he believes that another councilmember may have been participating in meetings while under the influence of alcohol to the point of being “drunk.”
The city council has not appointed a committee chair from among its members since 2002. The proposal to resurrect the committee did not sit well with some of the councilmembers.
Councilmember Bob Thompson responded that he believed that Lemley’s proposal stemmed from Thompson’s past comments critical of the governor. Thompson said, “We need free speech.” He added, “It could become a First Amendment problem and you might not like where we end up.”
Councilmember Michael Alvarez asked Lemley what drove him to bring up the ethics committee.
Lemley said, “It’s sad that we need this in the first place.” He continued, “I’m not concerned about what is said but what is happening when it is said.”
When Thompson asked for specifics, Lemley explained, “Things have happened at council meetings that shouldn’t have happened. Coming to or being part of a council meeting drunk or drinking is wrong.”
Councilmember Thompson replied, “I agree.”
Richland city councilmembers oversee the finances of the city and adopt an annual budget that in 2020 included around $305 million in spending. They approve city ordinances; acquire land including by condemnation; and hire a city manager.
In 2019 the yearly salary for the mayor was $16,920 and for councilmembers it was $13,920. Depending on the type of health insurance plan they opted for in 2019, yearly compensation ranged from $13,920 for Councilmember Sandra Kent and former Councilmember Brad Anderson to $37,862 for then Mayor Bob Thompson.
For most non-supervisory Richland city employees, the consumption of alcohol during the course of an employee’s scheduled work day is grounds for discharge or discipline. Councilmembers, on the other hand, can only be fired by the voters.
The Observer reached out to Lemley to ask who he was referring to. Lemley did not name names but in a Dec. 18 email said that he thought the problem “came to a head” at the July 7, 2020 council Zoom meeting.
“I was trying to not accuse anyone in particular, rather point out that things have been said and actions have been done that we all know to be wrong. Reasonable people know the difference in how we should conduct ourselves in public and in private,” he wrote. “I think that having an ethics commission or policy would help remind us of our responsibilities.
In his email, Lemley did not say what about that meeting seemed inappropriate. However, the online recording of the July 7 meeting shows that in the final councilmember comment portion of the meeting Lemley called out Thompson for the language he had used during the meeting. Earlier, Thompson had dropped an F bomb, suggested a resident was a “moron” and called fellow councilmembers “goddamn soft.”
During the Dec. 15 meeting, before the city council’s discussion, City Attorney Heather Kintzley went through the city’s history with ethics boards and committees. According to Kintzley in 1967 the council created a Board of Ethics that met no less than twice a year or as needed to consider any violations of conflicts of interest and self-dealing as well disclosure of confidential information. Modifications that were made to the ordinance in 1976 appeared to bring the law in conformance with the new state open meetings law, Kintzley said. In 1992 the council added language on conduct: “Councilmembers shall conduct themselves so as not to bring disgrace or embarrassment upon the city.”
Kintzley noted that in 1993 the council, not the Board of Ethics, censured Councilmember Bob Ellis for grabbing Mayor Craig Buchanan’s arm and calling him a “jerk” and the council “criminals.” According to Kintzley, the council specified that the censure was for what Ellis did and not for what he said.
In 1998, the council eliminated the board and replaced it with the council committee making the code conform with the action that had been taken in 1993. Until 2004, a council member was appointed to head the committee. Since 2002, there has been no reference to it during the biennial appointment of councilmembers to committees.
Councilmember Sandra Kent said that she thought the council supported the Lemley proposal but that it needed revision and agreed that free speech had to be protected.
Councilmember Marianne Boring added, “We need to bring up as a gentle reminder not to say some things out loud.”
Thompson laughed, “According to you.”
The Observer emailed all of the councilmembers and asked each of them if they were the person that Lemley was referring to. In addition, the Observer asked if the councilmembers would be concerned if one of them participated in a city meeting “drunk or drinking.” Other than Lemley, only Mayor Ryan Lukson and Boring replied.
Lukson said, “Is that a joke? I’ve never been to a council meeting drunk. You should reach out to Phil.”
Boring wrote, “It certainly was not me Councilman Lemley was suggesting. All of my meetings have been virtual thus far. Please know I do my best not to speculate on any matter….” The council appointed Boring on Oct.6 to replace Anderson who resigned.
The councilmembers agreed that they wanted to continue to have an ad hoc committee and Lukson asked the city attorney to clean up the language in the ordinance to assure that free speech was protected. After that he said the Council would have another discussion on the issue.
In his email, Lemley stressed that he had no “absolute proof” that any council members had been intoxicated during meetings.
“It is very easy to do or say things in the heat of the moment that is later regretted, at least by most people. I do not have absolute proof of that issue but strongly believe that it has happened in the past. All you have to do is watch the videos and judge for yourself. I have been clueless to a point in the past, but it is my understanding that it happens more than I realize.”