During his long tenure on the Yakima City Council, Clarence Barnett left no detail to chance.
No matter the issue, Barnett always made sure he was informed enough to make the right decision, said those who worked with him over his 22 years on the City Council.
“He would always check and verify (information) and come to what he felt was the right decision for the community,” former Yakima City Manager Dick Zais said Saturday.
Barnett died Friday night at the age of 93 at the Cottage in the Meadow hospice in Yakima.
A Yakima native and a graduate of the University of Washington, Barnett spent 28 years in the Army. He served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
While he took great pride in his military service, he also had to endure the loss of his brother, Dolph Barnett Jr., who died on the last day of battle at Luzon in the Philippines during World War II.
Clarence Barnett would spend the rest of his life recognizing the sacrifices made by those who served their country, including his father, Dolph Barnett, who also had a long career as a Yakima County Superior Court judge. Barnett often coordinated events honoring local veterans.
He, along with the late state Sen. Alex Deccio, was instrumental in the construction of the new National Guard armory at South 26th Avenue and Ahtanum Road more than a decade ago. The armory was named after his brother.
“It seems to be a closure,” Barnett told the Yakima Herald-Republic in 2002 on the decision to name the new armory after his brother. “I’ve never had closure, in my mind, on my brother’s death.”
Barnett was appointed to the Yakima City Council in September 1981 and was elected to serve five terms. The council appointed him to serve as mayor from 1984-86.
Those who worked with him said his attention to detail in politics was essential in debating and deciding on a variety of local, state and national issues.
In the late 1990s, Barnett traveled statewide to lobby for stormwater management policies — which seek to control pollution runoff from parking lots, streets and buildings — that better reflected the entire state, not just the rainy west side.
That work helped lead to amended policies that took into account the climate of Eastern Washington and ultimately lessened the cost of future economic development in the region, Zais said.
Former Yakima Councilwoman and Mayor Mary Place, who worked with Barnett on the stormwater management issue, remembers that Barnett took the time to read up on the issue so he would be well-prepared to make his case with officials from the state Department of Ecology.
“I was impressed with his breadth of knowledge,” she said.
He was also instrumental in ensuring that the city of Yakima’s water rights were sufficient for future economic development and was willing to invest in public utilities and facilities when there was a clear public benefit, Zais said.
A December 2003 City Council resolution recognizing Barnett’s service states that his work on the council helped result in more than $200 million in capital improvements, including the repair and expansion of the city’s irrigation system, construction of a new police station and legal center, and the expansion of the Yakima Convention Center.
At the same time, Barnett was also mindful of the city’s budget, Zais said.
He placed support for investment and spending “only when it was justified and after we exhausted all other options,” he said.
Barnett was also tapped to serve on many state committees, including the Hanford Nuclear Waste Clean-up Task Force, which established a plan to clean up nuclear waste on the site.
State Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, a family friend who served on the Toppenish City Council during Barnett’s tenure in Yakima, said he and leaders in other communities often turned to Barnett for advice.
“We trusted his word and sought his word, his thinking,” Johnson said.
Barnett’s political career ended 10 years ago when he withdrew his bid for re-election and endorsed Dave Edler.
“He always believed in giving a chance for the next generation to assume the mantle of leadership,” Zais said.
Edler, who beat four opponents for Barnett’s seat, went on to serve two four-year terms on the council, including four years as the appointed mayor.
Along with the endorsement, Barnett also met with Edler to provide guidance on the position.
“I was incredibly grateful,” Edler said Saturday. “I was a newcomer. I had no experience. The endorsement was just incredible.”
Edler said Barnett was a good steward of the public’s assets.
“He was watchful of the taxpayers’ dollar and yet recognized the importance of government and public safety and infrastructure,” he said.
While his political and military careers were important, Barnett always made decisions with his family in mind, Zais said. Earlier this year, he and his wife, Lois, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters and numerous grandchildren.
“They were his highest priority,” Zais said.
A private family ceremony is planned, Zais said. Keith and Keith Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
• Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.