Richland recall led by Hanford, PNNL, business leaders
The four voters pursuing a recall effort against three members of the Richland school board are a group of well-known scientists, businessmen, federal workers and contractors.
While they have a high reputation in the community, they say their decision isn’t about politics or masks — it’s about upholding the law, maintaining the school district’s credibility and bringing back the pay attention to the students.
“I worked for the government for 25 years. I’ve worked for Republicans and Democrats,” said Mike Lawrence, the former energy department director at Hanford’s nuclear reserve who oversaw the site’s transition from plutonium production to cleanup. “I think it’s very important for anyone in the public service to follow the law and the rules of the position they’re in.”
“The problem is choosing which rules and regulations you choose to follow,” he pointed out.
Lawrence, Brian Brendel, Bradley Rew and Anthony Peurrung filed petitions April 11 with the Benton County Auditor’s Office to recall three of the five members of the Richland School Board.
Semi Bird, Kari Williams and Audra Byrd voted in February to make masks optional, a move that led Richland’s superintendent to close schools for two days and put the district in legal risky territory with legal action. already filed.
Dysfunction at the council and in the district could have bigger repercussions than a few school days closed, says Brendel, the recall’s lead organizer.
President of an engineering and manufacturing company based in the Tri-Cities, Brendel fears this will deter families and workers from moving to the Tri-Cities.
“One of the main things that PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) used as a recruiting tool was the Richland School District,” Brendel said.
PNNL, operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy, is the largest and highest-paying employer in the Tri-Cities with more than 5,300 employees and an annual budget of $1.25 billion.
Peurrung, who joined Brendel, Lawrence and Rew to lead the recall effort, holds one of three main positions at PNNL as deputy director for science and technology.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday before a Benton County Superior Court judge to determine whether the recall charges — 6 for two of them and 7 for another — meet the state’s recall standard.
The judge will decide if the recall group can go ahead with collecting signatures.
They would then have six months to collect 5,200 to 5,800 signatures per board member to ask voters if they should be ousted from office.
In the encore, the trio allegedly exceeded their authority as school board members, breaking state law by violating the governor’s emergency proclamation and interior COVID mask mandate, breaking the state’s open meeting law. Washington and violating the ethics and policies of several school districts in the process.
The recall group hopes to correct what it sees as a “willful and wanton disregard for the law” and district policy.
“If we have people who get elected and are just going to throw them out, and just push their way through the process, that’s effectively throwing out the democratic process,” Brendel told the Tri-City Herald.
Brendel said the group came together after the three board members “doubled down” on their February decision.
They continue to maintain that what they did was up to them and what the majority of parents wanted.
“It’s a noble thing to give food to someone who is starving, but it’s another thing if you stole that food from Safeway,” Brendel said.
Here’s a look at the four leaders in the recall effort:
Lawrence, the former director of Hanford’s Department of Energy, is an influential figure in the history of the federal nuclear project.
He ran the Hanford nuclear reserve from 1984 to 1990 and is credited with turning the site around from plutonium production to cleaning up the environment.
Lawrence is one of the architects behind the Tripartite Agreement, which defined Hanford cleanup responsibilities and plans between Washington state, local and federal governments.
The legally binding document continues to provide the framework for the environmental cleanup of the nation’s most contaminated nuclear waste sites, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $2.5 billion per year.
For nine years from 2000, he was also Associate Director of the Energy and Information Services Laboratory at PNNL.
He retired in 2010 after a short stint as head of the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory.
He and his wife live in West Richland.
Brendel is president of Columbia Energy & Environmental Services, a full-service engineering and manufacturing company he runs with his wife.
The company started 25 years ago as a subcontractor for Hanford’s nuclear cleanup effort. Today, the company employs over 125 people and provides services throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Brendel is an alumnus of Richland High School, a resident of Richland, and has three children, one of whom he says will be in the school district starting next year.
Rew is a well-known Tri-Cities businessman and entrepreneur, having owned and chaired Gale Rew Construction for 15 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Some of his investments include Millennial Properties, HJBT Properties, Builders Advantage, BizMedia (Tri-City Showcase Magazine), and Blue Designs. He also served on the board of directors of the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In 2019, Rew fulfilled one of his longtime dreams with the $1.5 million purchase of the Horn Rapids Golf Course.
He lives in Richland and has been involved with the Greater Tri-Cities YMCA, local athletic training, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Peurrung, a long-time researcher, is Deputy Director for Science and Technology at PNNL.
He also manages the company’s science and technology investments and technology commercialization work.
His involvement in the recall is independent of his work at the prestigious National Laboratory, which competes to recruit and employ scientists and engineers of national and international reputation.
They include experts in fields such as data science and chemistry who conduct research in areas critical to the nation, such as sustainable energy and national security.
More recently, Richland’s lab competed and was chosen as the site for the nation’s Grid Storage Launchpad, a research hub to make long-term clean energy storage and a modern power grid a reality. Work has just begun on a $75 million building for the project.
Peurrung joined PNNL in 1994 and has a research background in various fields of fundamental and applied physics. Prior to being one of the lab’s two deputy directors, he served as director of the PNNL National Security Research Association Lab for more than a decade.
He has also held leadership positions with the US Department of Energy’s Radiation Detection Panel and the Department of Homeland Security’s Nuclear Countermeasures Program.