Richland Council to vote on reducing bus funding, Randy’s Rundown of the August 9 special meeting

The Richland City Council will hold a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 9 to decide whether to support a proposal from the Benton County and Franklin County Commissions to fund new mental health services by reducing funding for Ben Franklin Transit.

Councilmember Phil Lemley represents the city on the Ben Franklin Transit Board. At the Aug. 2 council meeting Lemley asked the council to decide how they want him to vote on the issue when it comes before the board.

The agenda for the special meeting includes Ben Franklin’s 2022 budget and tax revenue projections.

The county commissions propose reducing the .6% in sales tax that the agency currently receives to .5%. The reduction would require a referendum on the November 2, 2021 ballot.

Under state law, the commissions could raise the sales tax .1% or about a penny on $10.00 without a referendum.

Opponents of the change argue that while a .1% reduction doesn’t sound like much, it represents about $7 million or approximately 17% of the $44 million budget based on 2021 figures. About $35 million of that came from the transit tax.

Opponents also argue that cutting funding for public transit hurts many of the people that the community seeks to help with improved mental health services.

The resolution on the Ben Franklin agenda for Aug. 12 is to DECLINE placing the matter on the Nov. 2 ballot.

This spring Benton County received $2.7 million from the state to study building a mental health facility on 4 acres the county already owns.

The plan to rehab the old Kennewick General Hospital for the facility collapsed when the current owner of the building, LifePoint Health, wanted non-compete restrictions on the sale. LifePoint, a for-profit corporation, owns both Trios Hospital in Kennewick and Lourdes Hospital in Pasco. Lourdes provides some mental health services. LifePoint is owned by Apollo Global Management which currently sells on the New York Stock Exchange for $61.40 a share.

The council will meet at 6:00 p.m. for the special meeting that can be viewed in person at city hall, by ZOOM, or by watching City View Channel 192.

Kennewick Police Department still smarting from police reforms

Stabbed Kennewick Police Car

Update: July 26, 2021, 11:45 p.m. Kennewick Police Department reports that pepperball guns are on order.

Of the Tri-Cities, only the City of Kennewick opposed police reform in the last Washington State Legislative Session. Reform legislation passed and apparently, the Kennewick Police Departments (KPD) hasn’t come to terms with that.

A media release on July 27 about officers’ response to a disturbance at 1001 W. 4th Ave. in Kennewick describes how Kennewick officers successfully apprehended a woman throwing dishes and rocks and armed with scissors and kitchen knives which she used to slash their tires.

The successful conclusion of the event, the 28-year-old in custody and injury only to two police cars, didn’t stop Kennewick police from complaining about police reforms. According to the media release, H.B. 1054 prohibits the KPD from using their 37mm impact baton because it is larger than .50 caliber. They had to call in the Pasco Police with their pepperball gun to help.

Through public record requests earlier this year, the Observer obtained the emails from each of the Tri-Cities between city officials and staff and their Olympia lobbyists. In an email on January 12, 2021, Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, who also serves as a Kennewick Assistant City Manager, opposed the reform bill H.B. 1054.  and instructed the city lobbyists, Tom McBride and Ben Buchholz, to oppose it as the city’s representatives in Olympia.

When the Observer emailed the members of the Kennewick City Council to ask if the council had discussed a position on the police reform, only two wrote back. Both Councilmember Jim Millbauer and Councilmember Chuck Torrelli pointed to the discussion at the July 14, 2020, Kennewick City Council meeting.

At that time the council seemed to accept Hohenberg’s position supporting choke holds and other methods prohibited in H.B. 1054. Hohenberg said, “Police Officers have to have the option or we’ll have more dead officers.”

Pasco took the opposite approach. Before the last legislative session, Pasco City Council formally adopted this position: “Pasco encourages [their emphasis] the state to enact reforms to our state’s criminal justice system. Pasco has taken bold steps to reform policing locally and calls on the state to follow suit.”

According to Interim City Manager Jon Amundson, “The City of Richland supported the AWC (Association of Washington Cities) in their position on behalf of cities, ‘support local control over city law enforcement to meet the needs of each community while recognizing the need for certain statewide reforms.’”

No word on whether KPD plans to buy a peppergun.

Tri-Cities government agencies pay state and federal lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Are they worth what we’re paying?

Washington State Capitol in Olympia

Tri-Cities’ government agencies pay lobbyists to Olympia and Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to make their case before the Washington State Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Taxpayers pay about the same amount to their congressman, state representatives and state senators who were elected to do the same thing.

How do lobbyists earn their fees? Using public record requests, the Observer collected documents and emails between the lobbyists and their clients. This article about Richland will be the first in a series of articles about what the Observer learned.

RICHLAND 

While the city paid David C. Arbaugh to represent it in Olympia, it appears nobody worked harder than Richland Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky to lobby for Richland’s priorities during the 2021 Washington legislative session.

By the time the Richland City Council approved its list of legislative priorities for 2021, on Nov. 3, 2020, Rogalsky had been working for months for the transportation projects on the list — the Aaron Drive Flyover and the SR240/Van Giesen Street Interchange.

Arbaugh charges Richland $36,000 a year, much less than the $119,400 that he charges Chelan County Public Utility District #1 and less than two of his other five clients. He is the lowest paid lobbyist in the Tri-Cities where the fees range up to about $72,000 a year.

Arbaugh lists his address as Shelton, Washington, a town of 10,000 on the Puget Sound, 22 miles north of Olympia. Before starting his own firm, Arbaugh was director of government relations for the Washington Public Utilities District Association and political director for the Public School Employees of Washington. 

Lobbyists typically give generously to political campaigns, particularly to elected officials who might have influence over the issues of interest to their clients. Compared to other lobbyists in the area, Arbaugh’s contributions were relatively modest.

In September 2019, Arbaugh contributed $250 to Rep. Matt Boehnke who represents Legislative District 16 that includes Richland. Boehnke is the highest-ranking Republican on the House Community and Economic Development Committee.

Arbaugh also gave $250 in July 2020 to Sen. Mark Schoelser who represents Legislative District 9 that includes Franklin County. Schoelser serves on the Senate Ways and Means Committee that writes the budget. Gael Tarleton who ran and lost for Washington Secretary of State received Arbaugh’s largest donation, $1000.

Other lobbyists worked for Richland as well through membership organizations like the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), and the Washington Public Utilities District Association (WPUDA).

While several Richland staff consulted with Arbaugh occasionally, Rogalsky relentlessly proposed letters and correspondence to legislators on the transportation projects. 

Richland Business Services Manager Sandi Edgemon and Energy Services Director Clint Whitney availed themselves of Arbaugh’s advice on proposed regulatory changes and other matters that would impact city services. They worked with Arbaugh as well as WPUDA to understand various proposals.

In addition to advice, Arbaugh also provided a weekly update of the legislature’s progress on issues before it. Occasionally Arbaugh took on the tedious task of setting up telephone meetings between Richland staff and state legislators.

At one point in March 2021, when meeting arrangements with legislators dragged on for days, Rogalsky wrote to Arbaugh, “More time coordinating the event than performing it.

Rogalsky learned that there was a niche category of bicycle and pedestrian projects funding available. He worked with Kennewick to support submitting the Island View to Vista Field Trail for a $16 million grant that would include money for a bike/pedestrian bridge over SR240.

He wrote Arbaugh that he submitted the proposal to the city council at their March 23 meeting but noted “They didn’t say much on the project. I interpreted that as ‘go do what you do’ direction.”

Rogalsky also attempted to engage council members in meetings with legislators.

He wanted to include Mayor Ryan Lukson in a call to State Senator Curtis King, the highest-ranking Republican member of the Senate Transportation Committee, to discuss Richland’s priority transportation projects. Rogalsky wrote Arbaugh, “I don’t want to pass up an opportunity to keep our electeds engaged.”

Arbaugh responded, “I definitely hear you about electeds, but my sense is that this is a smaller conversation where we can talk some nuts and bolts about the transportation package.”

Rogalsky checked in with Richland City Manager Cindy Reents on Jan. 5 who supported Arbaugh’s position. Lukson wasn’t invited to the meeting. 

Reents was a lame duck city manager at that time. In December, she and the council agreed that her last day on the job would be Jan. 22.  When council members met with a consultant hired to help them in a search for a new city manager, Council member Terry Christensen complained about poor communication with Reents.

The Port of Benton did not have their own lobbyist, but they cooperated with Arbaugh, the City of Richland and the Washington Economic Development Association in a successful effort to pass legislation to allow tax increment financing (TIF) for local governments. Under TIF, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, cities and ports can finance development with future revenue from tax increases rather than through bonds.

At the end of the session, Richland came up empty handed on transportation projects. According to Rogalsky, after revenue shortfalls in 2020 due to Covid, funding was focused on keeping existing projects on track.

The Washington Department of Commerce budget did provide $900,000 for a replacement Hospice House in Richland. According to Chaplaincy Health Care Chief Financial Officer Jim Main, the group worked with area legislators to obtain the funding.

Slain Marine’s family files claim against Franklin County for $5 million

The family of a former Marine shot to death by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy has filed a wrongful death claim with the county for $5 million.

The claim, filed by Kennewick attorney Brian Davis, says Dante Jones’ family is entitled to the damages after Jones was killed in the 2019 shooting on a rural road north of Basin City.

The Observer obtained a copy of the claim through a public records request with Franklin County. State law gives the county 60 days to respond to the claim, after which the family can file a lawsuit.

The claim, filed June 25, 2021, came just six days before Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant determined deputy Cody Quantrell was justified in shooting Jones. 

Sant, who received the final report on the shooting in spring 2020, said in a statement that he wanted to be sure he had all the available evidence, including lab reports, before deciding whether to charge or clear Quantrell. 

On the night of Nov. 18, 2019, Quantrell claimed Jones brake-checked him several times after he tried to stop him for speeding, according to the Tri-City Regional Special Investigative Unit report.

Once Jones slowed to highway speed, Franklin Sgt. Gordon Thomasson, who is also named in the claim, told Quantrell to “terminate the pursuit.”  Quantrell admitted to SIU investigators that he did not do so.

Jones then pulled up next to Quantrell, who got out of his patrol car with his gun drawn. Quantrell told investigators that when Jones didn’t respond to his commands,he reached into the car with his left hand to take the keys. Jones then hit the gas.

Quantrell said he was trapped halfway in the car and feared that he would be dragged to death, so he shot Jones four times. Quantrell fell out of the car, which continued down the road and ended up in a tree farm.

Jones died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Quantrell had a scrape on his left knee and some scratches on his right hand.

According to his friends, Jones had had mental health issues and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder since leaving the Marine Corps. His autopsy showed methamphetamine in his system.

Quantrell joined the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office just months after receiving a serious counseling at his past job as a Toppenish police officer.from Toppenish Police Chief Kurt Ruggles.

Police Chief Kurt Ruggles said in a disciplinary report that Quantrell pursued a vehicle in a reckless manner for 30 minutes for a traffic violation; pulled a gun on the wrong suspect in a motorcycle reckless driving case and then failed to report the use of force until a complaint was filed; and damaged seven patrol vehicles. 

Quantrell also has been reprimanded in Franklin County for conduct during another traffic stop. Sheriff Jim Raymond said Quantrell lacked good decision-making skills and professionalism during an Independence Day stop in 2020. Quantrell ultimately got a “meets standards” rating from Raymond.

Visit Tri-Cities pushes rental scooters and council considers wheeled all-terrain vehicles on city streets and the upcoming budget process –Randy’s Recap, Richland Council’s June 22 workshop

During Richland City Council workshops which are held monthly, councilmembers receive information about issues before the city. The Council does not vote or take citizen comments at workshops. Sometimes the matters discussed come before the council later for a vote and then residents can comment publicly. Until then, residents can email the councilmembers their opinions.

Electric Rental Scooters

Michael Novakovic, President and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities has been motoring along the idea of electric rental scooters since 2019. He attended the Tuesday meeting to encourage Richland to take the lead in the process of approving a rental scooter company because they were only interested in a contract that included all the Tri Cities.

Councilmember Michael Alvarez asked if Novakovic had approached other cities’ councilmembers about rental scooters and he said that he had not. Alvarez said, “I don’t want to take the lead.

Director Joe Schiessl responded, “We’re further along.”

Councilmembers expressed concerns about where people would ride the scooters, who had liability for injuries, who would be responsible for scooters littering the sidewalks and streets and how the city would deal with any scooters thrown in the river.

In all cases, Novakovic pointed to the scooter companies although Councilmember Phil Lemley pointed out that accident victims usually went after the “deepest pockets.”

Novakovic batted away concerns and outlined a process for considering the scooters – community open houses in September, bids accepted in December, contracts awarded in January for a trial program.

Revenue would go to Visit Tri-Cities that would administer the program.

Wheeled All-Terrain Vehicles

Both Kennewick and West Richland allow wheeled all-terrain vehicle (WATV) on city streets so you can bet that they will be in Richland soon.

Mayor Ryan Lukson said, “I’m in favor of opening up opportunities. I don’t care how people drive around.”

Sandra Kent said that although all-terrain vehicles are “loud like a nice motorcycle,” she approved of them on city streets if people follow the rules.

According to Richland City Attorney Heather Kintzley, by state law the vehicles must have windshields, be licensed, and insured, and the occupants must wear Department of Transportation approved helmets. The vehicles are only allowed on streets with 35 mph or lower speed limits.

Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky suggested prohibiting the WATVs on three streets with 35 mph limits – George Washington Way, Stevens Drive (north of Jadwin) and Jadwin Avenue.

Rogalsky explained, “The character of their use and the frequent operating speeds may be higher than 35 mph.” In plain English that means that drivers exceed the speed limits and we let them.

Kintzley emphasized that staff was not promoting the use of the WATV but only presenting the information to council so that members could decide whether to consider approving them.

Lukson, who lives in the Meadow Springs Country Club neighborhood, has promoted the idea of allowing golf carts on neighborhood streets. Rogalsky pointed out that golf carts do not fall under the definition of wheeled all-terrain vehicles.

In other business the council discussed the schedule for the next budget’s consideration. Cathleen Koch, Administrative Services Director said that the city had received $7,361,385 from the American Rescue Plan.   The money has to be obligated by 2024 and the projects completed by 2026.

All Tri-City law enforcement agencies will soon have body-worn cameras

All Tri-City law enforcement agencies plan to have body-worn cameras by the start of next year, and they’re hoping the federal government will pay for them.

Richland Police Chief John Bruce told the Richland City Council on Tuesday that state legislation requires police to record all interrogations, whether in a police car or at a station. Bruce said. The best way to comply with state law is with body cameras, Bruce said. 

However, Mayor Ryan Lukson said the Legislature didn’t add any money to the law, which mostly takes effect Jan. 1, 2022. 

Bruce said Tri-City law enforcement agencies are applying as a region for a U.S. Department of Justice grant to buy the cameras and supporting software. The grant requires matching dollars from local governments.

The agencies stand a better chance of winning money with the regional grant approach, Bruce said. 

The Richland City Council had already started discussing the purchase of both body cameras and car-mounted cameras at their March 23 meeting. Bruce estimated at that time that the 5-year cost of that program would be $1,303,951.26.

In emails to the Observer Commander Trevor White of the Kennewick Police Department confirmed to the Observer that Kennewick was participating in the discussions.

In the past Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, who plans to retire in February 2022, has steadfastly opposed the use of cameras. 

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond wrote the Observer that he would soon present a proposal to the Franklin County Commission outlining what it would  cost to mirror the Pasco Police Department’s body camera program. The department has had body cameras for a few years.

Lukson said the Benton County Sheriff’s Office also was also looking at body cameras for its deputies.

Richland City Councilmembers unanimously approved the grant application.

Undisclosed property flip lands local pols McKay and McKay in disclosure commission trouble

An undisclosed land swap has put a Kennewick city councilman and his Benton County commissioner son in potential trouble with the state.

Two complaints filed April 28 by Kennewick Councilman Chuck Torrelli accuse William “Bill” McKay, Sr. and McKay’s son William “Will” McKay, Jr.  of flipping ownership of a property at 2652 W. 15th Ave. in Kennewick without telling the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

In April of each year, office holders in the state are required to file their personal financial information for the previous year so that citizens can determine any conflicts of interest. That information could include land deals.

The flipped property is an empty 3.87-acre parcel on South Conway Street, west of the Zintel Canyon greenway in Kennewick. Benton PUD owns two parcels on South Ely Street adjacent to the west side of the 2652 W. 15th property.

Bill McKay Sr. bought the land in 2017 for $390,000, according to the complaint. On April 8, 2019, McKay Sr., a dairy farmer in Idaho for 21 years, created a limited liability company fittingly named Udderly Williams. Will McKay Jr. is listed as a governor on the Udderly Williams paperwork with the  Secretary of State’s office. Neither one of them disclosed the LLC on their PDC financial filings for that year.

On August 27, 2019, McKay Sr. took McKay Jr. off the LLC’s governor’s list. Two days later, McKay Sr. transferred the land to Udderly Williams, according to the complaint. .

McKay Sr.’s ownership of the property has not been a secret in Kennewick.  On August 26, 2019, he spoke before the Kennewick Planning Commission requesting that the property’s zoning be changed to high density residential.

At about the same time, he asked the planning commission to change his 5.47-acre property at 3112 W. 27th Ave. just east of the entrance to the Canyon Lakes development from Residential Manufactured Home (RMH) to Residential High (RH). That property has a storage unit facility on it and is appraised by the Benton County Auditor at $3,687,910.

Both properties had zoning which allowed storage unit development before a 2018 municipal code amendment prohibited those in a RMH zone. The two properties were grandfathered for the storage unit use.                                                  

The changes were approved by the Kennewick City Council on March 17, 2020. Kennewick staff recommended the new zoning to help address a housing shortage in Kennewick. McKay recused himself from the votes.

The PDC has not resolved Torrelli’s complaints.

Deputy who killed Dante Jones reprimanded for another traffic stop in 2020

Dante Jones

The Franklin County deputy who shot and killed an unarmed man during a 2019 traffic stop was reprimanded for behavior during a stop in 2020. 

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond said Cody Quantrell’s actions during the Fourth of July stop in 2020 lacked good decision-making skills and professionalism. 

The reprimand came on the heels of a citizen complaint. Raymond concluded by saying that if Quantrell repeated the behavior, he could face more severe discipline or termination.

About five months later, Quantrell received a “meets standards” evaluation on his performance review. Raymond wrote Quantrell could improve further, having “received numerous citizen complaints concerning how he speaks and how he deals with the public.” 

Quantrell’s decision making has been called into question before. His previous boss, Toppenish Police Chief Curt Ruggles, outlined some of the same problems in a counseling memo he wrote on May 14, 2018.

Ruggles wrote that Quantrell pursued a vehicle in a reckless manner for 30 minutes for a traffic violation; pulled a gun on the wrong suspect in a motorcycle reckless driving case and then failed to report the use of force until a complaint was filed; and he damaged patrol vehicles seven times.

Quantrell joined the Franklin County Sheriff’s office two months after Ruggles wrote the counseling memo.

Quantrell repeated several of those violations during the lead up to the shooting of Dante Jones on Nov. 19, 2019.

Quantrell told Regional Special Investigation Unit (SIU) detectives that he did not stop chasing Jones when his sergeant told him to do so.

According to the May 2020 SIU report, Quantrell said he left his patrol car with his sidearm drawn and without waiting for backup.

In the counseling memo written by Ruggles, he described a similar action by Quantrell in Toppenish as “tombstone courage.”

At the time of the Jones shooting Quantrell had been with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department for one year. An Army veteran, Quantrell was a Yakama Nation police officer from 2013-16, and a Toppenish police officer from 2016-18. 

Quantrell’s father, Tim Quantrell, is the police chief of Zillah, Washington.

Quantrell has not yet faced any consequences in Jones’ shooting. Prosecutor Shawn Sant has not announced if he will file criminal charges in the case.

The Observer obtained the performance review, a copy of the reprimand as well as the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) report on the Dante Jones shooting through public record requests to Franklin County. The Observer obtained the counseling memo regarding Quantrell through a record request to the City of Toppenish.

Pasco City Council goes live but not without controversy. Richland and Kennewick councils stick with Zoom

Pasco City Councilmembers donned their facemasks and began having live city council meetings on Feb, 22. Anti-mask protestors have already disrupted one. Kennewick and Richland councils have stuck with Zoom.

Governor Jay Inslee moved Benton and Franklin Counties into Phase 2 on Feb. 14. That allowed live meetings with 25 percent occupancy in the council chamber, mandatory masks for everyone, and six-foot distancing.

Like everything else with Covid restrictions, Phase 2 has not been without controversy. At the March 1 Pasco City Council meeting, two men in the public section of the council chamber refused to wear a mask.

According to Pasco Mayor Saul Martinez, “A couple of men wanted to express their opinions and they were very respectful. ”After a fifteen-minute recess, the two agreed to leave.

City Attorney Heather Kintzley explained the guidelines to the Richland council on March 2. That was enough to make councilmembers decide that they weren’t interested in live meetings.

Councilmember Bob Thompson who has cursed Inslee’s restrictions said, “We might be a little premature. We could be reinforcing bad policy decisions made by others.”

Councilmember Terry Christensen, whose comments during council meetings have often been hard to hear, agreed with Thompson, “We would have to speak through masks,” he said.

“Rarely do I agree with Bob and Terry, but it is too early to have live meetings,” Councilmember Phil Lemley responded..

As she often does, Councilmember Sandra Kent wanted to “go with the flow.”

Mayor Ryan Lukson, Councilmembers Marianne Boring and Michael Alvarez also supported the status quo. Zoom meetings will continue.

Like Richland, Kennewick City Council currently meets via Zoom. Councilmember Steve Lee said that next week he expected the council to consider making Zoom attendance a permanent option for council members.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller supports body cameras for police

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. 

Read the letter here:

Covid-19 has made more Tri-Citians dependent on the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court could strike down in June

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.

Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers celebrate 30,000 masks

Cassandra “Cassie” Oakes, founder of Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers, models a mask.

In the last 8 months, Tri-Cities Mask Makers made 30,000 masks for area hospitals, police departments, postal workers, firefighters, hospices, prisons, food banks and dozens of other groups.

According to the group’s founder, Cassandra “Cassie” Oakes of Richland, “We filled all of our orders and everywhere you look now there are masks for sale for a few dollars.”

Oakes, a stay-at-home mother of four boys, started the group in March when she read a Facebook post from a local doctor describing the need for face masks. Oakes said, “I could sew and the community needed masks, so I began making them and started the group.”

March seems like a century ago, but many of us can still remember when the coronavirus first started galloping through areas of Washington. Medical professionals appealed to people to save the diminishing supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators for health care workers on the front line.  They recommended that everyone else make their own masks.

When requests for masks came pouring in, Oakes set up a system so the group could fill them in order. She also organized teams of people for every task.

Volunteers included sewers, runners who delivered supplies to sewers and picked up and delivered finished masks, and cutters who cut the pieces from fabric for the sewers to stitch together.  The group even included elastic untanglers.

Oakes posted a picture on the group’s Facebook page of what looked like a bag full of spaghetti. She asked, “Do we have any takers on untangling this type of elastic & cutting it into 10-yd lengths for kits?”  Within minutes two people volunteered. 

Oakes could not estimate how many people volunteered with her group but eventually her Facebook page, Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers, had 1,500 members. 

Becky Holstein Pospical of Richland made 1,000 masks. Pospical said, “I had nurse friends who asked me to please make masks. At about that time this group popped up.”

“People did whatever they could,” Pospical added.  “My high school friend donated four bolts of fabric.”

“As someone who has sewed my whole life, I was happy to learn that there are others like me out there,” Pospical said.

Amy Hanson, also of Richland, decided that she was not a sewer. She recalls, “I made a few masks and decided – no way!”

Hanson became a runner because she said, “I know how to drive.” 

Hanson recalls, “One lovely lady set up ice coffee for me when I came over to pick up or deliver. I met a lot of happy, nice people.”

DeAnna Winterrose, another Richland volunteer, made almost 2,500 masks but she said, “I don’t deserve all the credit for those.”

“I had volunteer cutters. Their work and other supplies would miraculously arrive at my door. I had a continuous supply. All I had to do was put the word out,” she said.

Winterrose described how she became worried watching the beginning of the pandemic while in Hawaii. “When I returned to Washington, making masks helped take my mind off of it,” she said.

Winterrose also credits a friend at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories who volunteered to check fabrics for their filtration ability. “That way we knew our masks were actually protecting people.” 

Oakes coordinated all of these tasks while making masks herself and even doing training videos for eager volunteers. She said, “Everybody wanted to help in some way.” 

Oakes said that her management skills came from years of motherhood after a career in banking. “I tend to be organized,” she said.

As the group shuts down Oakes admits, “I am exhausted.”

She added, “It feels refreshing to be able to bring people together to do something for the community. Knowing there are so many good humans out there makes my heart happy.” 

Runner Jo Breneman of Richland praised Oakes, “The Tri-Cities Face Mask Makers was an incredible endeavor, and Cassie deserves all the kudos we can give her.”

Animal shelter plan gives Richland City Council sticker shock

Correction Oct. 21:  The price estimate given for the shelter was $550 a square foot not $850.  The city paid $400 a sq. ft. for the new city hall. Neither price includes the land.

Consultant David Robinson of Strategic Construction Management surprised the Richland City Council with a price of over $550 a sq. ft. for a new Tri-Cities animal shelter. 

Robinson recommended building the new shelter on the old site in Pasco.

Robinson estimated the total would be $4.8 to $5.8 million split between Richland, Kennewick and Pasco, the three cooperating jurisdictions.

City Manager Cindy Reents pointed out that the new city hall had cost $400 a square foot.

The City of Pasco has taken the lead in the planning of the new shelter. Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell and Pasco Administrative and Community Services Director Zach Ratkai attended the meeting to help explain the plan.

Councilmember Bob Thompson said, “We have sticker shock.  Can we find a grant?” 

Mayor Ryan Lukson asked, “Could we renovate a building at another location?  I’m looking for ways to reduce costs.”

Ratkai said, “We couldn’t find any other buildings that were compatible.”

Zabell added that he had looked at the shelter in Spokane that was built in an old Harley Davidson showroom.  According to Zabell, “It cost a lot of money but did not turn out to be the best facility.”

Councilmember Michael Alvarez said, “I like the plan but I think it is expensive.”

Councilmember Philip Lemley wanted to know, “With our exploding population, how long before we outgrow this shelter.”

Robinson replied that there was no way of knowing but a more attractive shelter would attract families who would adopt pets at a faster pace.

“Richland needs to work with Kennewick and Pasco to use a design-build contract to cut costs as much as possible and perhaps also involve Benton County. We all want a new animal shelter but we need to look for the most cost-effective way to build it.  We need to explore every option.”  Lukson concluded.

On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, TriCities Women Still Struggle to Win Election to Local Government

On Aug.18, 1920, the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote.

Today women hold 41.5% of the seats in the Washington State Legislature but only 14% of the seats on the four local city councils and the two county commissions.

To better understand why so few women serve in the Tri-Cities, the Observer sought records from the cities of Richland, Pasco, Kennewick and West Richland, and from Benton County and Franklin County as well as the Benton County Election Office, the Franklin County Election Office and the Washington State Archive.

The Observer talked to current city council members Kate Moran and Gail Brown of West Richland and to former city council members Carol Moser of Richland and Rebecca Francik of Pasco.

They all agreed that raising money was one of the issues that prevents more women for running for local office. Plus, they all said they believe that women underrate their experiences and qualifications.

Richland

Seven members serve on the Richland City Council and the members elect a mayor after each election. Since the city was incorporated in 1958, 72 people have served on the Richland City Council. Only 13 of those were women, and they served 71 of the 434 council member years. Currently, one woman, Sandra Kent, sits on the council.

In the City of Richland, which provided more complete records than the other jurisdictions, six of the 13 (46%) women who have served there were first appointed and avoided campaigning and fundraising. Only 11 of the 59 men were appointed (19%).  

Carol Moser was appointed to the Council in 1995 and served almost 10 years until she resigned to accept an appointment from Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2006 to serve on the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Most people on the council serve until they resign. Only eight men (13%) who have run again have lost their post in a re-election, but five women (38%) have.

Moser explained the difference. “While councilmen often run unopposed, councilwomen usually have opponents in their elections. Women are viewed as weaker candidates.” 

She said that she ran in 1995 when she became concerned about the lack of parks in South Richland. At the time, that side of the Yakima River had only one large park, Claybell Park. She worked to add Badger Mountain Park to the area. 

From 1996 to 2000, three women served on the Richland City Council at the same time. According to Moser, the three referred to themselves as MazurMoserMunn as their names were read in the roll call. Rita Mazur served 14 years starting in 1995. Wanda Munn served four years starting in 1995.

Moser said, “You know it’s still a good old boy system when you see that only one woman has been mayor in 68 years.” Pat Merrill was mayor from 1958 to 1962.

Kennewick

Since the Council-Manager form of government was adopted in 1954, only six women have served on the Kennewick City Council and for only 30 of the 462 Council member years. No women have served on the council since 2013. One woman, Paula Drew Lockwood, served as mayor from 1990 to 1992. 

Pasco

The Observer obtained records for Pasco that went back to 1977. During that time seven women served on the council for 46 of the 301 council member years. Of that seven, two serve today. 

Rebecca Francik was appointed to the Pasco Council in 1996 to replace Joyce DeFelice who was appointed in 1989. DeFelice resigned to become the district director for then-Congressman Doc Hastings. 

In 2005 DeFelice, using her maiden name Olson, ran for re-election to the council, defeating incumbent Eileen Crawford 3190 to 3188.  In 2010, Olson, who had served several terms as mayor, resigned to marry her high-school sweetheart who lived out of state. 

Francik recalled, “On my first council everyone was expected to pick up their packets, read them, research and bring their A game to council meetings. It was an analytical group.” 

“As a woman and the mother of seven children, I had a different perspective than the men on the council. I had spent many hours at the swimming pool with my seven children, and I knew why residents were complaining that there was no shade there.” Francik added, “I don’t think this area appreciates the different experiences that women bring to the councils.”

Francik remembers she first worked with Pasco City Council when she proposed having the City of Pasco annex her neighborhood. Almost a third of the houses in her area had failing sewer systems and homeowners wanted to connect to the Pasco sewer system.

Francik lost re-election in 2017 to David Milne.

West Richland

West Richland has a strong-mayor system of government. There are seven council members and an elected mayor. The Observer was able to obtain West Richland records back to 1986. The city clerk directed the Observer to the minutes at the Washington State Archives and the online Benton County Election records.

From 1986 until the present, 11 women have served on the West Richland City Council and voters have elected two mayors. Kate Moran first ran in 2017 and lost. After that election, she was appointed to the West Richland Planning Commission. In 2019, she was elected to the council.

She said she ran when she discovered how hard it was to obtain information from West Richland.

“The difficulty was not deliberate lack of transparency,” she noted, “but rather poor accessibility.” She added “Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of electronic record keeping and communication.”

Gail Brown has served longer, 23 years, than any other member of a local council except Bob Thompson in Richland, who has served 26 years.

Brown said she ran because she was “mad about potholes.” 

She noted that she went to the city council to complain and found herself spending more and more time there. Soon she was elected to serve on the council. She said that she has continued to serve because of her interest in protecting the older residential sections of West Richland.

Brown noted that as West Richland has grown, it has become more and more expensive to run for a seat on the city council. 

Brown recalled a particularly memorable vote to appoint a replacement member on the council in 2006. The council called a special meeting to decide which of two candidates, Maggie Valcich or Merle Johnson, members would choose. 

“This vote really demonstrated the difference between men and women on the council,” she remembered. 

Brown, Julie Jones and Nancy Aldrich supported Valcich. The men on the council supported Johnson. After going into executive session on and off for almost three hours, Mayor Dale Jackson broke the tie and the council appointed Johnson.

Benton and Franklin County Commissions

Since 1905, only three women have served on the three-member Benton County Commission and for only 16 commission years out of 345. Kathy Utz served from 1976 to 1980. Deborah “Debbie” Reis served from 1982 to 1986. Sandi Strawn served from 1988 to 1996.

Reis ran for Mason County Commission in 2008 but lost in the primary. Currently she serves as chair of the Mason County Board of Equalization.

The Observer was able to obtain records back to 1990 for the Franklin County Commission. No women currently serve on the Franklin County Commission. 

Since 1990, only two women have served on the commission. Sue Miller  was elected in 1992, 1996 and 2000.  She served as chair in 2001. Neva Corkrum was elected in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004.  She was defeated by Brad Peck in 2008.

Sloppy Record Keeping for Weapons, Ammunition and Weapons Training Described by Benton County Sheriff’s Deputies

Benton County sheriff’s deputies describe sloppy record keeping for weapons, ammunition and weapons training certification in a 61-page collection of interviews given to the Observer. The interviews are part of an administrative review of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.  

Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher requested the review from Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond after almost 14,000 rounds of ammunition and 2 firearms, all Benton County property, were discovered at Hatcher’s former home

The findings are included in the review conducted by Franklin County sheriff’s investigators. 

When asked to describe how ammunition is inventoried and stored, Benton Detective Todd Carlson in charge of training told investigators that “there was no inventorying policy that he knew of.” The detective said he would issue ammunition to deputies who needed it. 

As to record keeping on firearm certification, the detective told investigators, that with multiple firearms trainers, “sometimes the sheets aren’t promptly turned in, or they are left in cars, etc.” 

The detective said he often did not know who used the shooting range until he got a record.

Sometimes, the detective was told when a deputy’s weapons qualification was overdue, and he then had to track it down.

Several people had access to firearms records, the detective told investigators. 

”There were a number of people who could access and make changes to the records,” the detective said, according to investigators. 

Commander Jon Law said that, “There is a policy [for inventorying firearms], but honestly it is sloppy at times.”

The review was controversial from the beginning.  The Fraternal Order of Police and the Benton County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild pointed out the close working relationship between Raymond and Hatcher. 

The unions said an agency outside of the Tri-Cities should conduct such a review.

Some of the interviewed Benton deputies pointed out that a criminal investigation into potential wrongdoing normally precedes an administrative review.  Those deputies hesitated about talking to Franklin County investigators because they feared retribution from Hatcher. At least two deputies obtained “whistleblower” protections, Sgt. Jason Erickson and Lt. Erik Magnuson, documents show.  

The two Franklin investigators, captains Adam Diaz and Monty Huber, told the deputies that they were consulting with Raymond and could not assure that he was not sharing information with Hatcher.

The review documents sent to the Observer are attached to this post.  Investigators summarized their findings starting on Page 56 of the report.

In response to the administrative review, Erickson, who recently filed to petition for Hatcher’s recall,  submitted a complaint in Benton-Franklin Superior Court (No. 20-250460-11) to obtain records he said were not provided in earlier requests.   

Erickson asked for records of all communication between Hatcher and Raymond, and between Huber and Diaz and either Hatcher or Raymond.

Erickson had obtained an email written by Raymond to Hatcher, Franklin Prosecutor Shawn Sant, Franklin Chief Civil Deputy Jennifer Johnson, and Captain Ronelle Nelson regarding his public record request of April 17, 2020

In the April 20, 2020, email, Raymond refused to turn over the Administrative Review.  He accused FOP attorney Alan Harvey of being “up to his usual antics” and “his usual crap” in making a public record request to obtain a copy of the review. 

“We (FCSO) are not going to fulfill Mr. Harvey(‘s) request as this matter belongs first completed and placed in the hands of Sheriff Hatcher,” Raymond said in the email.

The complete Complaint can be read here.