Elections by Wards/Districts on Agenda for Tonight’s City Council Meeting
We’ve been alerted that at tonight’s Burien City Council meeting (7 p.m. at City Hall, 400 SW 152nd Street) there may be a lively discussion on the proposed “districting” of the city for future city council elections.
“Dividing a city into wards or districts is authorized by RCW 35A.12.180 as long as it is done three months prior to a municipal general election,” reads a note in the packet. “If the City of Burien wants to pursue this initiative this year, the City must file the ordinance requesting special election with King County Elections Office by May 10.”
The note goes on to say:
“There is no requirement for a public vote on the matter.”
As is the case with all city council meetings, Public Comments are allowed at the beginning of the session; individuals are limited to three minutes, while groups get five.
As many of our Readers may recall, on Feb. 15 we published a Letter to the Editor from Debi Wagner, which first brought this issue to our attention. In that letter, Wagner expressed her concern about why Burien was even considering districting.
It’s item “c” on the Business Agenda in tonight’s packet (download full PDF here):
a. Motion on Naming the 2013 Annual Citizen(s) of the Year Award Recipient(s).
b. Discussion of and Possible Action on Proposed Harbor Urban Alternative Development for Town Square Including Available Options.
c. Discussion on City Council Election by Wards/Districts.
d. Discussion on and Possible Motion to Adopt Ordinance No. 577, Relating to Property Donation.
e. Discussion of the South County Area Transportation Board Agreement Extension for 2013.
f. Review of Council Proposed Agenda Schedule.
Here’s a map that shows existing voting precincts, populations, and where current councilmembers live (NOTE: the council has not even decided whether to pursue any change to council districts; click image to see larger version):
Here’s what Nhan Nguyen, Management Analyst for the city, wrote in the agenda:
The purpose of this agenda item is to present to Council information for its discussion of Washington State’s election laws and best practices related to City Council election by wards/districts.
BACKGROUND (Include prior Council action & discussion):
At the February 4 Council meeting, Council directed staff to research the subject of Council election by wards/districts and to present the findings at the February 25 Council meeting.
Dividing a city into wards or districts is authorized by RCW 35A.12.180 as long as it is done three months prior to a municipal general election. If the City of Burien wants to pursue this initiative this year, the City must file the ordinance requesting special election with King County Elections Office by May 10. There is no requirement for a public vote on the matter.
To start, Council must decide how many districts it wants to establish and whether it wants any at-large positions. The bulk of the work in establishing a ward/district system would be in determining district boundaries. RCW 35A.12.180 provides that “The representation of each ward in the city council shall be in proportion to the population as nearly as is practicable.” Generally this means each district should be plus or mius 5 percent of the average. Cities can use census blocks or voting precincts to create districts, neither can be broken apart. Census blocks or voting precincts within districts should be contiguous. The districts should to the degree possible coincide with natural boundaries and existing communities, provided that population’s proportion is maintained.
RCW 35A.12.180 also provides that the change to district boundaries will not affect the term of any current councilmember. In other words, councilmembers whose terms have not expired will serve out of their existing terms. The statute further provides that if a district is being represented by more councilmembers than the number to which it is entitled, then those with the shortest unexpired terms shall be assigned by the Council to districts where there is a vacancy. A district candidate can run for City Council as long as he/she is a resident of that district on the date of his/her election. District candidates will be voted on by voters in their districts during the primary and by all voters in the City during the general election. However, he/she must resign from the office if he/she no longer resides in the district he/she represents. If that occurs, the remaining members of the governing body appoint a qualified person to fill the vacant position.
Districts must be reviewed upon the publication of each federal, decennial census to ensure they are proportionate to the population as nearly as practical. If they are not, the City would take steps to redraw the district boundaries.
OPTIONS (Including fiscal impacts): Direct staff as Council’s wishes.
We’re wondering…what do YOU think of the idea of breaking Burien into wards/districts? Please leave your Comment below…