Richland City Council to Eliminate Term Limits for City Board Members

Richland City Council will vote at its April 7 meeting to effectively eliminate term limits for city board members. Board members can currently serve for up to 12 years but the change will allow the council to extend their terms indefinitely.

According to Mayor Ryan Lukson in an email, “The intent was not to set an arbitrary term limit if there was someone that council felt was a valuable member of the board and wanted to continue serving. The extension would have to be approved by council of course.”

It is hard to imagine the Council telling someone who wants to serve longer than 12 years “We’re sorry but you’re not a valuable member of the board.” Therefore, board members will likely be able to serve as long as they want, reducing the chances that other residents can have the opportunity. Extensions, like other board appointments, will appear under the agenda heading “Consent Calendar”, where the topic is listed on April 7. That section includes a list of items which are not discussed, receive only one vote, and almost always pass unanimously.

In addition to providing a forum for citizens to participate in local government, Boards are usually thought of as a training ground for future council members. Limiting the number of people who can serve on the boards will reduce that pool of people.

After the extensions are approved, board members will be on equal footing with the council members who usually serve until they die or resign. Since the City of Richland was incorporated in 1958, 69 people have served on the City Council. Only 10 of those failed to be re-elected.

I Can’t Believe it Has Come to This….the Trials and Tribulations of a Mask Maker

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I could not believe that Covid-19 has reduced the United States of America to homemade medical masks. But when my friend the hospice doctor started making them, I knew the need was real. 

So out came husband Bob’s first gift to me after we married, the Made in the USA 1970 Singer that weighs about a 1,000 pounds. Even with a meager three zigzag stitches, it was the Mercedes of its day. For 50 years I have used it to make everything from pillows for the living room to old-lady-style, elastic-in-the-waist pants. With that machine and those skills under my belt (or elastic), I set about to make masks. 

Grabbing yards of cotton that had been left over from other projects, I began cutting and sewing the pieces from a pattern described on a local Facebook page,  “Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers.” Making the fabric ties was slow and the whole process took all day, but finally I had a mask that looked okay.  SUCCESS!!

The next day I was determined to do this job faster, so I looked for an easier pattern.  A friend sent a text with the video of a woman making a mask that she said took 15 to 20 minutes to make, maybe 20 minutes for a beginner. Yippee, just what I was looking for. I cut out the fabric rectangle pieces and two elastic 7-inch elastic strips from the meager leftovers in my sewing stash. Quickly I sewed those together. Hey, I’ve got this. I can whip them out now. Healthcare workers, help is on the way!

Then it was time to put the pleats in the mask. They looked so easy on the video. Rip, rip, sew, sew, rip, rip @#$%, $#@% (expletives deleted).  Finally, a finished product that looked like s— and it took all day!!!

So on Day 3 of mask making it was back to fabric ties. So at least I’ve settled on a pattern that I can accomplish. I’m not even going to look at the beautiful masks on the Facebook page or compare the dozens of masks per day to my one.  No, I’m just going to keep plugging along.  After all, nobody knows Rosie’s rivet count.

All Primary Ballots Counted in Benton County…Franklin Reports 200 Left to Count

The Benton County Election Office has counted all 2020 primary election ballots and Joe Biden is the winner of the Democratic primary in Benton County with 8,504 (38.95%) votes of 21,832 counted. Donald Trump received 26,170 of the 26,609 votes received from Republican voters.   Bernie Sanders finished in second place in the Democratic primary with 6199 (31.66%) votes. 

Bernie Sanders won the most votes in Franklin County as of Friday night, March 13, 2020 with 2751 (39.99%). Biden was second with 2413 (35.08%). Franklin County still had 200 uncounted votes.

Biden appears to have taken the statewide race with 544,975 (37.7%) of the votes but 117,658 remained uncounted as of Friday night. Bernie Sanders is in second place with 515,411 (35.7%) of the votes.

Statewide turnout was 46.31% and Benton County turned out 41.53%. The Benton County number surpasses 2016 that only saw 34.37% vote. However, in 2016 caucuses had already chosen delegates before that primary. Franklin County had a 39.76% turnout. Only 33% voted in 2016.

Richland City Council Member Robert Thompson’s DUI Case Kicked Down the Road for a Fourth Time

Robert Thompson’s DUI Case will tentatively go to court on July 6, 2020 at a location to be announced later. The Case is being handled by Yakima prosecutor Joseph Brusic and Yakima Judge Brian Sanderson because Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller recused his court from the case. In July it will be over a year since Washington State Trooper James Stairet stopped Thompson for speeding in Kennewick and ultimately charged him with a DUI.

Today both Thompson and Stairet testified as the court reviewed the film from Stairet’s patrol car taken June 29, 2019, the night of the stop. At one point the defense attorney Kevin L. Holt demanded that this observer erase a cellphone picture taken of a portion of the patrol car video. Judge Sanderson responded that the hearing was public and the patrol car recording was a public document.

Thompson’s attorney had filed a motion in January to declare the arrest illegal and the breathalyzer results and the case thrown out. However, at today’s hearing the defense and the state agreed to a time of arrest and to breathalyzer results being admissible. According to the prosecutor, Thompson’s requested blood test showed higher numbers than the breathalyzer results.

Other arguments from the defense included a motion to recuse the Yakima prosecutors for “retaliatory prosecution” due to past cases that Thompson as a defense attorney had tried in Yakima. The judge dismissed that motion pointing out that Yakima had nothing to do with bringing charges.

The defense plans to have a toxicologist testify about retrograde extrapolation –how the body processes alcohol. This and other issues will be discussed at a Status Conference tentatively scheduled for Thursday April 14 at a location to be announced.

Benton County Steaming Ahead with Ballot Processing, as of Today 32,756 Returned

Here I am at the Benton County Election Office in Prosser. This machine photographs ballot envelopes and kicks out unsigned ballots.

Employees of the Benton County Election Office in Prosser have geared up again and are processing ballots for the 2020 presidential primary election. As of Sunday March 8, Benton County voters had returned 32,756 ballots.

Amanda Hatfield, Manager of the Benton Council Election Office, recently walked me through each step between the time that the first ballots are received and the time that the election is certified.

  1. Upon arrival primary ballots are separated by hand into Democratic Party and Republican Party based on the box checked on the envelope. As of Sunday, 753 ballots did not have a checked box that declared a party. Those voters will receive a letter and will have a chance to correct the omission so their votes can count.
  2. Ballots are then run through a machine ( pictured above) that takes a picture of the front of the envelopes and kicks out ballots that are not signed. Voters who fail to sign their ballots receive a letter and have an opportunity to correct the problem.
  3. Pictures of the signature side of the ballot envelopes go into a computer program.
  4. An election department employee goes through the ballot envelope pictures four at a time on a computer to make sure that signatures match those on file. Voters with signature match issues receive a letter and a chance to prove the signature is theirs..
  5. An election department employee takes approved ballots and removes the cover envelope with the signature and party declaration. On election day, March 10, votes are removed from the inside sleeve and votes received through Saturday are counted.
  6. On Wednesday votes that arrived by mail or were placed in ballot boxes after Saturday are processed and counted.
  7. Votes that are postmarked by the deadline 8:00 p.m. Tuesday continue to be counted. Votes with corrected signatures or party designations are counted.
  8. A trickle of votes continue to be corrected and counted until certification.
  9. The Board of Elections meets on March 19, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. to address any outstanding issues and certifies the election the next day, March 20.

May 24, 2016, 34,991, votes were cast in Benton County in the presidential primary, 34.37% of registered voters. However, the Democrats had already chosen delegates in caucuses that were held on March 26. Based on early returns for the 2020 primary, officials at the election office predict that participation this year may reach 50%.

Richland’s New Mayor Ryan Lukson Brings Change to City Council

Richland Mayor Ryan Lukson

Tuesday night Richland City Council will vote to change their meeting time from 7:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and eliminate the pre-meeting format. See email from Lukson below.

When Richland City Council Candidate Ryan Lukson interviewed with the Tri-City Herald editorial board prior to the 2017 election, he admitted that he had a problem with the way the pre-meetings were held:

“Lukson also takes issue with the council’s pre-meeting before the regular city council session. He questions why — since it is open to the public — it can’t be held in the large council meeting room. Instead, council members meet in a cramped chamber that limits the number of people who can attend.

It’s a question we have as well. With Lukson’s experience in county government, perhaps he could persuade his fellow city council members to be more transparent and more obliging in their dealings with citizens.”

Although the pre-meetings were moved to the new council chamber in the new city hall, they were not televised or taped and many people still thought the meetings weren’t opened to the public. Issues discussed in pre-meetings included the budget, the lodging tax, the marijuana petition, and locations and plans for proposed new parks among other topics.

Richland Mayor Ryan Lukson.

Attorney for Richland City Council Member Robert Thompson Throws Everything but the Kitchen Sink at DUI Charges

Trooper’s Wife Drawn into the Case

Councilmember Robert Thompson’s attorney, Kevin L. Holt, has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the court attempting to have Thompson’s DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charges dismissed. In his briefs, Holt has questioned the reliability of breathalyzers. He also argues that Thompson’s blood alcohol level at time of testing could be higher than at time of driving due to “involuntary intoxication” caused by dehydration; that there was no probable cause to stop Thompson; and the arresting trooper’s wife who was driving along with her husband was Thompson’s “adversary”.

Holt writes:

‘The trooper was accompanied that evening by his wife Michele [sic], who was doing a ride along. Michelle was or had been an Assistant Kennewick City Attorney. I believe this was her last night of employment with the city, as she had submitted her resignation previously and had informed this attorney her last day was to be June 30, 2019. Michele [sic] was a cougar football fan and alumni of WSU. As a local prosecuting attorney and a Tri City Cougar alumni she would have been aware that the Cougar vanity plate, KANANI 1, was her adversary Robert Thompson. She knew Mr. Thompson very well, she often exchanged WSU information with Mr. Thompson, who was a regular in her court, in fact she had recently been on the losing side of a criminal case with Mr. Thompson. It is not unreasonable to speculate that she informed her husband Trooper J. Stairet that he was about to stop the Mayor of Richland, her adversary Robert Thompson.”

Holt’s discovery requests include email, texts and electronic data transmitted by both Officer James Stairet and his wife Michelle Dorsett Stairet for “29 June 2019 at 2300 PDST thru 30 June 2019 at 1000 PDST and the following 10 days.” In addition, he has asked for the personnel files of both Officer Stairet and his wife. Holt also wants the National Highway Traffic Association and the Washington State Patrol policies on “ride along”.

For the same time period he requests all communication between the WSP [Washington State Police] employee to Benton County Prosecuting Attorney, City of Kennewick, or the Tri City Herald or any other news agency.

A judge and prosecutor from Yakima County are handling the case. A hearing is scheduled for March 10, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. at the Benton County Court House.