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City Councils Still Whiter Than Their Northwest Towns

City of Kennewick
The Kennewick City Council is currently made up of seven white men, despite 24 percent of its population identifying as Latino in the last federal census. City Councilman Bob Parks has come under fire for some recent comments on Facebook.

A southeast Washington city council member posted anti-Latino comments to his personal Facebook page last week. It followed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ visit to Yakima.

In the offending post, Kennewick City Councilman Bob Parks called out both Pasco and Yakima’s Latino populations -- and the need for Donald Trump’s wall on the border. Parks has defended his statements.

The Kennewick City Council is currently made up of seven white men. And the city is 24 percent Latino, according to the last census. But like other Northwest communities, minorities are having trouble electing-in their qualified candidates for leadership in government.

Last year, the City of Yakima elected in its first-ever Latino council members after it began electing all of its council by district. The city was sued by the ACLU.

Kennewick and Pasco have yet to change their council elections. Pasco received a recent letter from the ACLU of Seattle, asking the city to change its elections to increase the chance for representative bodies to reflect the electorate. Pasco spokesman Jon Funfar said the council passed a resolution last year to study changes to its election districting system.

City of Kennewick Manager Marie Mosley said her council has no plans yet to change how the city elects council members. Three Kennewick council members are elected by district and four are elected in an at-large system.

Mosley said Councilman Bob Parks hasn’t broken any formal city rule with his Facebook or public comments, since the city doesn’t regulate personal Facebook pages. The city does have a public website conduct rule and personal conduct rules, but she said he hasn’t breached those.

Mosley also said the actions of Parks are not representative of the city’s core values, on display inside city hall on a poster and online.

“The personal posts that Bob Parks posts are not representative of how we move forward as an organization,” Mosley said. “One city council member doesn’t change the core values that our city staff and council members embrace.”

Mosley said she expects the issue of Park’s Facebook comments might come up at the city’s next council meeting on April 5, when public comment is taken.

“I suspect the city council will review our [personal online] policies,” she says.

Parks’ council seat expires in December of 2017. Many citizens have already called for Parks to resign before then. Both Kennewick and Pasco will next elect open seats for city council members in 2017.

Editor's note: after this story was published and broadcast, Parks defended his Facebook post as free speech commentary on illegal immigration and said he apologized if he offended anyone.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.