Our Voice: Changes to ward system should be about keeping current Kennewick council

Figuring out a different ward system in Kennewick could be a worthy endeavor, but city council members need to make sure their motives are centered on what's best for the city as a whole and not what's simply best for each other.

Confusion over a city code on how to fill city council vacancies prompted the discussion of the ward system at a recent Kennewick City Council meeting, but city officials also were quick to note that current boundary lines force some council members to run against each other when their terms expire.

For instance, Councilman John Hubbard is running against Councilman Bob Parks for the at-large position because Hubbard is moving out of Ward 3, the district he currently represents.

While it is understandable people who respect each other and work well together wouldn't want to run against each other in an election, that shouldn't be a factor in changing the city's ward system.

Another example is Paul Parish and Bob Olson, both longtime councilmen. They could end up running against each other in 2015 when their terms expire because of new district lines.

When the council updated ward boundaries in 2011 to balance population based on the 2010 census, Olson's home moved from Ward 1 to Ward 2.

Olson has served on the city council since 1988 and Parish has served since 1996. That's a lot of combined history and valuable experience between the two. However, the reluctance of two seasoned city councilmen to run against each other is not a valid reason to re-vamp the ward system.

Parish already has said he will not run against Olson out of respect for his colleague. Admittedly, an election between the two would be awkward for them and Parish is being gracious.

But still, when discussing changes to the wards, it has to be guided by what's best for the electorate, not what's convenient for current city council members.

The ward systems are common in cities across the country, with the idea that certain parts of a community share unique interests that should be represented. If all the positions are at-large, then the majority of city council members could be from one neighborhood. That has the potential of special interests in one part of town getting more attention than other areas of a community.

In Kennewick, residents vote for candidates for the ward they live in during the primary. Then, during the general election, all Kennewick voters get a chance to vote on all open positions.

The idea of adopting a system where all the Kennewick council members are at-large, instead of having six of the seven assigned to three wards and one at-large position, has been tossed about.

If there are reasons for such a change that would benefit the entire city, then it could be a valid consideration.

But so far it looks like a way to help keep current city council members elected. That's a selfish proposition, plain and simple, and puts public servants above the people they serve.