Oct 19, 2023
By: Katherine Trowbridge
Connell City Council Position 5 has been held by KaTrina Kunkel. As the filing period approached Kunkel made it clear she would not seek re-election, opening the postition to others in the community who would like to serve.
The position was sought by three candidates and narrowed down to two in the primary - Preston Hart and Patrice Hebel.
Preston Hart -said he ran for council because he “want[s] to invoke change in the community, be impactful for our kids and generations to come.” He said he’s always had an interest in politics and wanted to get involved in the community. He added, “More to, you know, see change through and have sound judgment and decisions made that impact community members. I feel there’s a need for the younger generations' voices to be heard as well as some members that aren’t, their voices aren’t always heard. My wife is Hispanic. I obviously have an understanding of how small town politics work; my dad was on city council and I went to meetings as a kid. It’s always been a desire of mine to be involved in and impact positive change.”
How will you represent the voters? Hart stated he is “open to listening to all sides of the equation and not formulating decisions based on emotion. More based on how it impacts, positively impacts, the community and evaluates potential ramifications for decisions that could be made or potentially works. So, educated decisions.” He added that he’s “not afraid to swim upstream and make our decisions or challenge, I guess, challenge bad thought.”
Will you ask the hard questions? “Certainly… I’m not afraid to challenge those topics when they come up. I’m firm on doing what’s right and what I think is right and what ultimately has bearing on the community. And it’s important that everyone’s voice is heard, grant it, you can’t align with everyone’s views and just go along with things, you need to make educated decisions based on information put in front of you (be informed of what’s put in front of you in advance, without a doubt).”
What do you feel are the biggest issues facing the city? “I think to ensure that the city is set up for success in terms of economic development and growth, I think you have to have a community that entices people to want to reside here and that provides a sense of home and safety. Fostering a home for youth and generations, they’ll want to come back, like myself, and be actively involved.”
“You have to come up with a formulated response to things that are proposed. Obviously, there’s situations going on in town right now that are hot topics and I think that you have to do your homework and have to do your research into what the potential outcome is and that decisions that you prepare … with information presented.”
When asked about the city being more open with its citizens, Hart said he felt that things need to be brought before the public before decisions are made. He also said he has a good rapport with the community and knows people who work within the city. Hart added, “It’s not in the best interest of the community if it’s not open for comment, opinion, information gathering. It’s okay to table issues when you don’t have the answer. Decisions aren’t going to be made instantly.”
Hart shared a vision for seeing business come to the community that would draw people to see what else is in town and drive the whole strip of main street. He said we are ripe for growth and he is “passionate about being actively involved,” and “passionate about what our community is and can become.”
Hart is the fifth generation, his kids sixth generation in a family line that settled in the area back in the late 1800’s. Hart moved back to Connell with his wife, Jen, and their two daughters, although he works in Richland and his wife in Moses Lake. He shared, I chose to move back here. I mean, obviously I had a nice house in Tri Cities and my wife had a nice house in Moses Lake yet we chose to move back to Connell to be involved in the community and raise our kids in town… we wanted a positive change, and that was a really small town. That's the experience I had as a kid and I want that to be the same for my kids.”
He added, “And there's a wave of people that are my age that I went to high school with that are wanting to come back for the same reasons, to get involved.”
The Harts are involved in the community in a number of ways; he shared that his wife is head of youth volleyball, coaches soccer, and is involved in the schools. He is involved in the North Franklin Development Committee, coaches youth baseball, and soccer. If you want to talk to him, he said, “You can see me at any of the sporting events in town.”
Patrice Hebel shared that she ran for city council because she wanted “To help see that our town doesn’t turn into a Lind, Kahlotus, or Washtucna. To see that our businesses don’t disappear.”
She spoke about the need for businesses that support those who are currently here like a breakfast restaurant that would support the motel and community. “That’s a family gathering, that brings people together too.” She spoke up about the need for the grocery store to expand, and for places where smaller businesses could get a start.
How do you plan on representing the voters? Hebel stated she will listen, she’s available to the public and wants to hear their concerns. “I try to get out at every event that we have in town. I listen to what people are saying and what they want done in town. I’m easily accessible.”
Hebel has been the only candidate running for council, with the exception of the incumbent, that has been attending meetings. She said, “It would have been nice to see my other opponents, there hasn’t been anybody else. I’m just surprised, if somebody wants to do something and expects it then why aren't you there to see what's going on?”
Hebel shared that by attending city council meetings as a candidate running for council she heard a lot of RCW’s coming up so she took it upon herself to get educated on the RCW’s. “But, like, my big thing on this is, those are RCW’s and everything that's going on with all that stuff, they were all set as a standard for the state of Washington. Each community is separate, okay, a baseline. They were made to be changed, times change. People change, communities change. Something that was 100 years ago is not going to work with today's society. If we can't change things and conform to change then nothing's gonna work.”
Also sharing thoughts about some of the issues currently being discussed in council meetings, Hebel said, “There’s so much information and people’s comments and stuff right now going on” she shared, “I want to see it in black and white. I want to see if somebody says they did this and this, I want to see that. Okay, so why aren't we doing this? Why aren't we making a solution to this problem? Okay, so this and this tell them they need this, this and this. So it can be done. Don't keep adding things that oh, well, this and this. Put it out there, what has to be done. And why have it where they're not bringing in revenue right now? Give them a temporary permit. Give them a temporary permit, let them get this, and then give them a date to have everything set up and ready to go. And if they don't pass, then they either get a fine or they don't get there and they have to redo everything for their licenses or something, you know? The back and forth, that's gone on too long.“
What do you feel are the biggest issues facing the city? “We need to be one city to begin with. There's no cohesion you know, there's this and this and yeah, I'm gonna feel hurt if certain things aren't done. Oh, yeah, that's hurt and pride. But the cohesion of the Council of the City has got to get together. So everybody's on the same page. I mean, what you can do, what you can't do.”
Hebel felt that anyone with a Connell address should get to vote not just city limits, stating it’s sad, but maybe that can be changed.
Will you ask the hard questions? “Yeah, Why are we doing this, you know, what’s the purpose, what’s the long term effect? What's the short, is it going to be a quick fix or is it going to just be a passive move to make everybody happy? If you don't ask, that’ll get you in trouble.”
Hebel has resided in Connell for over 18 years. She actively serves the community on the Greater Connell Area Chamber of Commerce as a board member and helps to put on a variety of events within the city. She is active on the Fall Festival, the Hotel Motel Tax Fund Committee, and Salary Commission. When not serving the community in these ways she serves as Manager of the M&M Motel, bringing in people to stay and spend money within our community. Hebel shared that she “fell in love” with our town long before she even knew she would end up here.
Hebel said, “I love seeing all the new businesses and the revamp of the downtown. But we see so many businesses closing. I want the community to succeed. I want to see the town grow. I don’t want to see it die off.”
She added, “I want to see change, I want to see growth. I’m here to serve. I’ve been serving the community since 2018.”