Districts: A Hot Potato For Everett City Council

July 19, 2017

Everett Government

districts

Here are the five districts that people would be asked to vote on in the current proposal.

Tonight the Everett City Council had the first and second reading of an ordinance that would authorize the council to put an initiative on the November ballot for voters to decide if the city council should change from all 7 members at large to 2 at large with 5 council members coming from districts. The proposal would only move forward if the Districts Now committee had enough valid signatures from voters registered in Everett by August 1st as certified by the Snohomish County Auditor. The third reading of the ordinance was set for next week.

During public comment council members were urged by several speakers to put the specific question to a vote of the people bypassing any need to have a certain number of signatures. The reason for the concern over the number of signatures is that the number of signatures needed to place the proposal on the ballot is based on the number of people who voted in the last general election. Because the last election was a hotly contested Presidential race the voter turnout was unusually high. Several speakers and even council members mentioned that in any other year the point would be moot as enough signatures would have been gathered by now.

Council member Brenda Stonecipher asked for her fellow council members to put the idea up for a vote at the next city council meeting. She said that the council had multiple opportunities to put the idea on the ballot and draw districts as they saw fit. Now that the people are gathering signatures and working to put the measure up for a vote the council should allow it. Council President Tuohy seconded her suggestion. That set off a storm of other council members saying that there should be a committee to look at the idea of districts, to study it, maybe send it to the general government committee and put it on the ballot in the fall of 2018.

Council member Moore stated he was concerned that he and council member Roberts would not be there next week and suggested they vote tonight on whether or not to just put it on the ballot. In order to do that an emergency would have to be declared. After much back and forth around the various council members it was decided that a special meeting to address the issue would be held before the 31st of July if the city attorney can’t get the August 1st signature deadline moved one day to the next available Everett City Council meeting on August 2nd.

Council members Moore, Franklin, Roberts and Murphy all stated they wanted a more public process while council member Bader said he wants to see exactly how many valid signatures have been collected. At this point it will likely all come down to at least one if not two more Everett City Council meetings by August 1st.

With regards to the argument of how the map has been drawn up. Megan Dunn who is one of the people leading the effort provided MyEverettNews.com the following letter she sent to city leaders yesterday…

Dear Mayor and Everett City Council Members,

I’d like to take this opportunity share the process for creating districts, public comment and state law, in response to hearing some mis-information on the campaign trail!

I have presented to the council about the topic of districts on several occasions: recently in 2015, to the Charter review in 2016 and to the current council in fall of 2016. In each of those presentations, the request was for a public process and to form a committee to create districts and give voters the opportunity to vote on districts. I also met individually with some council members and league of Women voters met individually with some council members to determine support for creating districts. We made it clear that if the council was not willing to act on the overwhelming public comment-including numerous public comments by LWV, NCAAP and other stakeholders and over 30 written and spoken comments to the Charter Review, the highest number of comments on any topic in both 2006 and 2016 combined, we would move forward with out own process in order to finally see districts on the ballot. We are now moving forward with that process and we are securing the needed signatures (a form of public comment and support) to put this issue on the ballot as soon as possible.

Inaction by the council, including the government subcommittee made up of Roberts, Franklin and Bader, is why we have been forced to rely on a citizen’s petition to amend the charter.

I’ve heard council members say they disprove of this process and the map. This is unfortunate, because the ability to create a map ad process to create districts was in your hands for many many years. Our city charter clearly outlines a process for public input when the council fails to act-that is the petition process we are now following.

A few comments on state law and forming districts, to counter the false information some campaigns have been spreading. We followed RCW 29A.76.010 in order to draw the districts. Dr. Richard Morrill is an expert in the field. He understands the law and made the map to follow the law, including that the districts be based on population and they must be compact and continuous and not favor or disfavor any group.

Splitting north Everett into two districts would not make them compact but it would make sure North Everett stays in power and continues to control all the decisions on the council. Combining Delta with south Everett (as has been suggested) would not be contiguous and would also violate state law.

Districts “may not be used for purposes of favoring or disfavoring any racial group or political party.” See: https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=29A.76.010. So, suggestions at recent forums to draw the districts based on demographics and to civic engagement meetings by Everett Staff would violate the law. The districts must be based on population.

We are all at a disadvantage to the power house of north Everett. The current proposal of 5-2 and the proposed map are the best step forward to improving diversity, increasing representation and creating a more fair and involved voting system.

I think we can agree that there is a need to improve voter involvement and representation and I look forward to moving forward on shared solutions, such as voter registration. But, I do feel strongly that we need structural change in order to see improvements and that structural change is council districts.

If you’d like to meet about this topic, feel free to call or email me at any time.

Best,
Megan Dunn

The Districts Now folks and the city are also at odds over the timing for turning the signatures in for validation. The city says July 5th was the deadline for turning in signatures while Districts Now says September 20th. We’ll keep you updated on how things progress.

About myeverettnews

My Everett News is a hyperlocal news website featuring breaking news and events in Everett, WA. We also cover City of Everett information and items of interest to those who live and work in Everett. It's written by Leland Dart a former Snohomish County based radio reporter born and raised in Everett.

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