Our Voice: Kennewick’s decision to gut ward system is wrong

The Kennewick City Council’s decision to add more at-large positions is suspicious, no matter how they couch the reasoning behind it.

In a recent 4-2 vote, the city council gutted the current ward system that had for years ensured equal representation throughout Kennewick. The switch now provides two long-time city council members a way to run for office without facing each other in the 2015 election.

It is doubtful the issue would have come up except that a boundary change three years ago moved Bob Olson’s home into the same ward as Paul Parish.

Both are long-time council members and both are fine gentlemen. However, changing an established election system so two current politicians have a better shot at keeping their jobs is unacceptable.

Until the recent vote, there had been two representatives from Ward 1, Ward 2 and Ward 3 and one at-large position on the city council. Now, there will be only one representative from each ward and four at-large positions, meaning more candidates can run for office regardless of where they live.

Those in favor of the change have said this is a good move and could provide a wider selection of candidates. That remains to be seen. The risk is that entire neighborhoods could end up underrepresented. Kennewick is a diverse city with unique demographics in different parts of town. The ward system helped provide a balance on the city council. Now that’s gone.

Councilmen Olson, Parish, Greg Jones and Kennewick Mayor Steve Young voted in favor of the change, while Councilman John Trumbo and Mayor Pro Tem Don Britain opposed it. Councilman Bob Parks, the current at-large representative, was not present for the vote.

With the ward system, Kennewick residents vote in the primary election for the candidates who represent their part of town. Then in the general election, all voters can decide on all open positions.

This system has worked well and there was no driving need to change it other than to protect the interests of Olson and Parish. Olson represented Ward 1 while Parish represented Ward 2. However, the boundaries were updated in 2011 based on the 2010 census, which put Olson’s home in Ward 2. Olson has served on the city council since 1988 and Parish has served since 1996.

Admittedly, that combined experience is valuable and the boundary change put Olson and Parish in an unfortunate situation. But switching the city’s traditional voting system just for them is wrong.

No matter how many other reasons are given for the change, it is hard to believe the motivating factor was not to help keep Olson and Parish on the council.