POLL: Should the City of Burien Proceed with Creating Districts/Wards?
As many of our Readers are aware, the Burien City Council is currently discussing breaking our city of ~47,000 into districts, or “wards.”
Each district/ward would have its own representative on the city council.
The council can vote on this issue without resident approval, and the apparent deadline to give notice to the King County Elections Office is April 13.
Since the city’s proposed annexation of North Highline/White Center was rejected last November, districting/wards has been the most recent hot political potato for the city, generating lots of comments and opinions.
(NOTE: The next council meeting starts at 7 p.m. this Monday night, March 18, with public comment at the beginning.)
First, some background – the following language is what the city included in two recent council agenda/packets, as written by Nhan Nguyen, Management Analyst, under the direction of City Manager Mike Martin:
FROM FEB. 25, 2013 PACKET (p. 71):
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.
FROM MARCH 4, 2013 PACKET (p. 255):
The purpose of this agenda item is to continue the discussion about the issue of Council Districting and to answer the following questions from the City Council at the Feb. 25 meeting: 1) What would happen if there were no candidates from a district? and 2) Can star pre send some possible district maps to Council?
BACKGROUND (Include prior Council action & discussion):
At the February 4 Council meeting, Council directed star to research the subject of Council election by wards/districts and to present the findings at the February 25 Council meeting. At that meeting, Council directed staff to bring back answers to the two aforementioned questions.
1) If there were no candidates from a district at the initial formation of the district, then one of the incumbents could be appointed to fill the district vacancy per RCW 29A.24.201 or the position could be filled by Council appointment per RCW 42.17.070. If there were no candidates from a district at subsequent elections, then per RCW 291.24.201 the incumbent would remain in office until the next election or until he or she resigns, at which time the vacancy would be filled by Council appointment per RCW 42.12.070.
2) Attached are the illustrative maps of the City with seven, six, five and four districts.
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. The King County Election Office 2013 Jurisdiction Manual mentioned that City must file the ordinance requesting special election with King County Election Office by May 10. However, staff has recently learned that the City may have to inform the KC Election Office as early as April 13.
OPTIONS (Including fiscal impacts):
Direct staff as Council wishes.
Here are maps the city included in the council packets showing four different district/ward breakdowns (click images to see larger versions):
Below are some opinions from Readers on districting/wards we have received (EDITOR’S NOTE: almost all comments/letters The B-Town Blog has received has been against districting/wards):
“Dividing the city up into tiny pieces would seriously harm the freedom we have under our present voting system. We have always allowed anyone who is a registered voter to run against anyone who is up for reelection, no matter where they live or where you live. There are 281 cities in the State of Washington and only 20 have a ward system and of those 20, only 3 have a system like the BCC is discussing!!! That should tell you something.
Here is why it’s a very bad idea:
- It will ensure much more opportunity for the incumbent to be reelected. Why? Because no one outside his or her ward can run against the council member up for relelection unless that person lives in the same ward. Restrictive? Yes. Favors the chances for the incumbent? Yes. Fair? No.
- It has the effect of creating cronyism because it’s tough to run against your neighbor or a friend so it promotes favorites, no matter their qualifications. People are reluctant to run against someone they know personally. So it stifles competition, again favoring the incumbent.
- These two big facts would have a chilling effect on who runs and why. This is not a good way to have an open and robust election process.
The smoke screen for promoting this by some who suggest it will give more opportunity for minorities to run for city council is simplistic. Tell me how. How much effort has the city made to reach out to minorities and be inclusive? What strategies have they tried and have they worked? Have they tried to involve them in any aspect of city governance? How? What about our many commissions and committees? And remember, we have had two mayors from minority backgrounds and we have had candidates who represent a minority. Both these facts are good. I agree it would be great to have many more. We need to work harder to involve all the community and be inclusive in every way. Changing the way we vote is not a way to achieve that goal.”
– Sally Nelson, former Mayor of Burien
“This districting safari is out to make your liberties extinct. As with tigers, extinction was prevented by the concerted efforts of focused individuals. Hear the focused individuals that are your neighbors, on the shenanigans of this council and their efforts to seize power for themselves with no accountability to the electorate!”
– “Cover of Night”
“These folks on either side have forgotten they are here to serve the needs of the people as a whole. They have all shown signs of self-interest in one way or another. If the re-districting were to occur our votes as citizens will not be equal from one area to another. In a city of 48,000 that is a sad commentary on the state of affairs here. We need to use the given powers we have and elect individuals worthy of serving this great community.”
“Research on the practice of districting, especially in small cities, shows it as an expensive and devisive practice. Researchers state these reasons for not using districting in city governments;
1. it is undemocratic in the way that the lines get drawn
2. it is intended to give some districts more power than others
3. it is an intended way to neuter an elected mayor who in intended to implement policies he/she was elected to do
4. it costs far more to run the Council because it requires the expense of re-districting constantly-quoted $20,000 to $50,000 each time districts have to be redrawn.
5. reduces the democratic impact of all of the citizens in a city
6. it creates political factions among council members who are always vying for what they can get for their little districts in order to be re-elected
7. creates favoritism/ward bosses favors in pockets all over the city like old time mob politics
8. diverts the council toward working toward unified goals for the entire city and all of the citizens
9. it is intended to keep the imcumbents in office because they control how the lines are drawn.
10. it sets up a system of Gerrymandering in the city. Gerrymandering is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party, group or individual by manipulating district boundaries to create a political advantage or to remain in office .
Less than 4% of the cities in California use districting. I believe that Mike Martin and Jerry Robison know this. In most areas of the US it is considered as an undemocratic, politically devisive system and cities generally shun the use of it.”
What do YOU think? Please take our informal, unscientific poll below, and feel free to add a Comment as well: