POLL: Should the City of Burien Proceed with Creating Districts/Wards?

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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.

Subsequent information:

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):


Map 257 – 7 districts.


Map 258 – 6 districts.


Map 259 – 5 districts.


Map 260 – 4 districts.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

– David

“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.”

– Fred

What do YOU think? Please take our informal, unscientific poll below, and feel free to add a Comment as well:

Should the City Council break Burien up into Districts/Wards?

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20 Responses to “POLL: Should the City of Burien Proceed with Creating Districts/Wards?”
  1. JJ Greive says:

    It is a very good idea. I think you should have to live in the neighborhood you represent. I feel under represented now. I wonder what neighborhood my city officials live in now?
    Its the obvious choice. The only reason I can think of for not agreeing are self serving. we are all served by diverse representation.

    Lets see a map of the mayor and each council members neighborhood and then tell me we have an equitable system. Lots of people have no one in their area, and they should have an active voice too.

  2. Ghost of Maplewild says:

    Once again as with Annexation the citizens of Burien are not allowed to vote on an issue that can change our city forever. And the majority of this council want it this way. And if the majority don’t like what they hear they just walk out of a council meeting anyway.

  3. Mary says:

    Its a terrible idea and one that I suspect is the result of the collusion of Mike Martin and Jerry Robison in a desperate attempt to maintain the current majorities status quo.

    I suspect the city manager is feeling that his job security might be in jeopardy with a new more progressive majority on the council.

  4. How about a cumulative voting system? As of March 2012, more than fifty communities in the United States use cumulative voting, all resulting from cases brought under the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. Among them are Peoria, Illinois for half of its city council, Chilton County, Alabama for its county council and school board, and Amarillo, Texas, for its school board and College Board of Regents.In cumulative voting, voters cast as many votes as there are seats. But unlike winner-take-all systems, voters are not limited to giving only one vote to a candidate. Instead, they can put multiple votes on one or more candidates. For instance, in an election for a five-seat body, voters could choose to give one vote each to five candidates, two votes to one candidate and three to another, or all five votes to a single candidate. This kind of voting system gives minority candidates a better chance, whether a minority political opinion or racial and cultural minorities. Here is an article about what cumulative voting in Texas. http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/vce/features/0601_01/slide1.html

    • TcB says:

      Is that something like instant runoff where you get a first pick and a second pick? e.g; 3 votes for one candidate and two for another would give you some say if the second candidate was moving ahead? I like instant runoff…

  5. Pam F. says:

    An FYI…

    Optional division of city into wards.


  6. JJ Greive says:

    I have an idea, what neighborhood do you live in and what is your opinion.
    If you are serious, give your name and an approximate cross street

    I am on 4th SW and 122nd. Districts all the way!

    My REAL name is JJ Greive, and I am proud of my opinions and my neighborhood.

  7. Ghost of Maplewild says:

    I live in Burien. That’s all that needs to be said. I don’t trust you or you pall Robison to give my real name. However I do live in the ohh so terrible neighborhood that tall tales have benn told of south of Seahurst Park and West Ambaum. Where the streets are lined with cotton candy and we all get a free Unicorn from the city every year.

    • Chris says:

      In my part of Seahurst, my unicorn is actually made out of chocolate, and Water District 20 pipes-in San Pellegrino for water. Oh so good!

    • Shari says:

      Ghost, at this point I am leaning towards a lot of skepticism about the districting proposal (in part because I heard a council member propose it during a study session in a way that suggested it was a kind of retaliation–my words, not his–for the failure of the most recent annexation). But I think part of the frustration in some Burien neighborhoods is that their neighborhoods are viewed as the ” ohh so terrible neighborhood that tall tales have benn told of where the streets are lined with oxy and mossy motorhomes from 1970 and everyone gets a free blue tarp and secret gang membership card from the city every year.”

  8. Fred says:

    J.J. Grieve already has his own city council member who specifically listens to him and represents him already, Jerry Robison. J.J.Greive lives in that northeast corner of the City of Burien. J.J.Greive and his wife Susanne Greive know the political system well. They ran Jerry Robison’s campaign. J.J., Susanne and Jerry Robison know how to run very cheap campaigns. They found Jerry Robison the cheapest non union sign maker in the U.S.A. for Jerry’s campaign. So the claim that no one in the northeast corner of the city knows how to run a campaign, get funds for a campaign or is available to mentor someone in the northeast corner is pure horse puckey. J.J. Grieve knows that and he is really about cronyism. J.J.’s wife is a member of the Ecomonic Development Advisory Board for the city and J.J. attends many of their meetings. So J.J. is also well represented as a business owner in the city on this city board. His claim on this blog that he is under represented in this city is phoney hooey.

    What The Grieves and the four City Council members( Bennett, Clark, Robison, Bennett) are doing with this thing of wards/districts is trying to make sure they keep their current council positions or making sure that they and their friends get into office in this next election to retain control of the Council and make sure Mike Martin keeps his job. Their reasons for wanting wards is not about the people of Burien, representation, democracy or what is best for the city.

    A special “SHAME ON YOU” goes out to Brian Bennett/Burien mayor. He is a man who went to the Ukraine on an internship to show those people how democracy should work. Now he is willing to deny the people in his own city a democratic vote on this issue of wards/disrticts or better still he should not even consider wards which are known to be highly undemocratic.

    • ShellyC says:

      This is a great idea. It spreads the city council over a more diverse area than Lake Burien/Seahurst/Shorewood. We need more representation from Norh Burien, East of 1st Avenue Burien and South of 172nd Burien. Make all the noise you want and slam me here all you want, but there’s too much West of Ambaum influence on the council. Viva diversidad!!!

  9. As a resident of White Center and having played a part in the No-Annexation campaign I am still being astounded as to how your government operates. During the annexation vote we where told how Burien cares about it’s citizens input and how we would have 7 Council Members to represent us. I guess I can add this to the long list of misrepresentations. So glad we voted NO. Honestly, this whole thing sounds like an act of desperation. What you should be asking yourselves are the following questions:

    Why the urgency, why now?

    Where do the present council members live, not by a star but by name?

    Four council members are coming up for re-election this year. What are their names?

    Now compare the last two questions and the maps provided. Your city council admits that they are polarized four to three. Ask yourselves who will gain from wards, and who will lose?

    Even though it may be legal to vote, often we here of officials not voting on something for ethical reasons because they have a personal stake in that vote. Even though it is legal, is it ethical for council members to vote on how they will be re-elected?

    Why can’t this go up to a vote of the people? Shouldn’t the people decide how they vote for their representatives in government?

  10. JJ Greive says:

    Fred, I have 2 questions what is your name and how far from you does your council member live? Why cant you admit your name here? Are you so embarrassed by your opinions you have to hide?

    • John Poitras says:

      JJ you were a rabidly pro annexation supporter and as a member of the NHUAC spread as much pro-annexation propaganda as you could get away with.. Your views did not represent the vast majority of the residents and again here your views only represent and support your clique and former NHUAC crony Jerry Robison.
      Dividing the city into wards is a terrible idea and only serves the purpose of Mr Robison and his desire to remain in the majority on the council by any means necessary.

  11. Eaton B. Verz says:

    I think we all know what JJ really wants. He has made it clear in the past that what he and his cronies want is to zone King county out of the low income housing business. He can give you all kinds of reasons that it is a terrible thing. I believe it is all a smokescreen to zone the areas in such a manner that the County would sell off the properties and open them up to private development. That is why Robison and JJ are so tight. Working toward a common goal of self serving legislation and back room deals. Time to blow the current majority out and start fresh. It is good to see the new people announcing their candicacy. That should tell you how frustrated the people are with this current self serving gamesmanship by the majority. BTW JJ. I can throw a rock from my house and hit yours, neighbor. The current system works for me……

  12. TcB says:

    I still think if you want to do this you should check out this site http://www.fairvote.org/
    The page that deals with this points out that you would probably sacrifice voter turnout, and gerrymandering possibility, for the raising of minority voting numbers. If that’s ok with you, you should say so. Or if you don’t agree you should say so, but I trust this org over you unless you tell me that you have other research…Also, I still don’t like Strong Mayor, it was the liberal Democrats that designed Council-Mayor and if you claim to be a Democrat and want strong Mayor perhaps you should study a little history on this matter. Small to medium size cities tend to use our current form (especially in our State, even Tacoma, which is way bigger than we), and there’s no need to change it.

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