Former executive director seeks Port of Benton seat

Scott Keller, the Port of Benton’s retired executive director, is seeking appointment to the seat vacated by Commissioner Bob Larson, who retired on Oct. 28, four years into a six-year term.

The port’s remaining two commissioners, Roy Keck and Jane Hagarty, intend to appoint Larson’s replacement on Nov. 29. Keller is the only candidate to publicly announce his candidacy by the deadline for this paper.

Keller and a group of fellow tenants at the port-owned Richland Airport say the commission is rushing the appointment and urged it not to finalize a decision until January, after Commissioner-elect Lori Stevens succeeds Hagarty.

Stevens, the co-owner of Airfield Estates Winery in Prosser, defeated Hagarty in the Nov. 2 general election on a campaign calling on the port to do more to support business.

She wants her former opponent and Keck to wait the 90 days allowed by Washington law to decide who will hold Larson’s District 2 post. Choosing an appointee then would give Stevens rather than Hagarty a vote on the matter.

Regardless of who is appointed or when, a special election will be held in November 2022 to determine who will serve out the remainder of the six-year term, which expires in 2023. The seat will be up for election again in 2023.

“I’m running,” said Keller, who retired from the port two years ago.

Keller does not expect to be appointed, citing clashes with his former board. He said his lengthy experience with the port makes him uniquely qualified to hold the position.

Keller retired in 2019, after 30 years with the port, including 17 as its executive director. Diahann Howard, formerly its economic development and government affairs director, was appointed to the job.

He said he has been laying low, spending time at his airplane hangar and enjoying a family that has since grown to five grandchildren.

“I’m not doing this to be vindicated,” he said. “I’m doing this because I think it is the right thing.”

Keller said he submitted his application minutes after the port announced the process it intends to use to fill the vacancy.

The application, he noted, asks would-be appointees about their experience with airports, land leasing and economic development, all activities he led as its top executive.

Under the schedule announced in early November, applicants have until noon, Nov. 19, to file.

The commission will review applications in a special session at 9 a.m. Nov. 22, and interview finalists in a second special session at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 29. It said it will announce the appointment of the interim District 2 commissioner at that time.

Candidates must be residents of District 2, which covers much of northern Richland and is bordered by the Hanford site to the north, Van Giesen Street and Swift Boulevard to the south and the Yakima River to the west.

A map and other details are available at portofbenton.com/commissionvacancy.

Port commissioners are paid $1,500 a month and stipends to attend meetings.

They also receive full health insurance and other benefits, as well home office support, including office supplies and technical assistance. The three-person commission oversees the executive director and in turn, the economic development efforts of an area serving a population of 56,000.

Key port initiatives include supporting the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, its various business parks, Crow Butte Park and the airports in Richland and Prosser.

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