Burien City Council to Revisit Question of District/Ward Elections Tonight
The Burien City Council will revisit at tonight’s study session (Monday, March 25) the divisive question of whether individual council members should be elected from districts/wards rather than city wide (read our previous coverage, and take our poll, here).
No action on the proposed change will take place at the study session – nor is any decision likely before November’s city council elections.
Burien council members are currently elected city wide – as they have been since incorporation in 1993.
Most Washington cities elect their council members city wide, although state law provides the option of election by districts/wards. And King County Council members are elected by districts.
The question of Burien council elections by districts/wards was initially raised by Councilman Gerald Robison in the wake of a council controversy that erupted late last November.
At that meeting, Councilman Jack Block Jr. made a motion for Burien to change to an elected mayor form of government and to schedule a vote on that proposal in the April special election.
Had such an election taken place, it would have opened the door for Block, who faces re-election to the council this year, to run for mayor instead.
But with two members of the four-member council majority absent that evening, which would made possible approval of Block’s motion on a 3-2 vote, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark and Robison walked out of the meeting, which then ended due to lack of a quorum.
In the subsequent debate over whether Block’s motion followed statutory procedures, Robison countered that an elected mayor will not improve local city government.
Instead, he said, electing council members by districts/wards would give Burien residents better representation.
This proposal, too, has generated a firestorm of point-counterpoint disagreement among local residents. An unscientific, informal B-Town Blog poll (more info here), showed an overwhelming 75% of our Readers opposing the idea as of March 25:
- No (75%, 130 Votes)
- Yes (17%, 30 Votes)
- I don’t know (8%, 13 Votes)
Robison argues that council members elected from districts/wards would encourage residents from all areas of the city to run for election.
Currently, he noted, most council members come from Southwest Burien.
But opponents have countered that districts/wards could deprive the city of the best candidates for council membership and would divide the city into competing areas.
This issue was to be discussed at the March 18 council meeting, including consideration of district/ward boundaries for councils with four, five and seven members.
But after lengthy deliberations other business items and with the meeting approaching its three-hour limit, Robison asked that consideration be postponed.
Since no action will be taken at tonight’s study session, there now is not adequate time as required by state law for district/ward boundaries to be submitted to King County Elections before the May 13 candidate filing period opens.
Nevertheless, Robison suggested that the issue should be discussed tonight to clarify questions in the event the council eventually decides to proceed with it.
Even if the council majority now determines that council members should be elected from districts/wards, it is unlikely the question will be voted on by either the council or the public this year.
Should districts/wards be approved but a new council majority is elected, that new council could simply overturn that action and return to city wide elections.
Here are maps the city included in council packets showing four different district/ward breakdowns (click images to see larger versions):