Burien City Council to Revisit Question of District/Ward Elections Tonight

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by Ralph Nichols

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):


Map 257 – 7 districts.


Map 258 – 6 districts.


Map 259 – 5 districts.


Map 260 – 4 districts.

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8 Responses to “Burien City Council to Revisit Question of District/Ward Elections Tonight”
  1. TcB says:

    From my research it would seem that this is a less effective way to do this, I think there are some good ways, but we haven’t even discussed any alternatives to this .

    I know it may increase minority participation, and that’s a good thing.

    It also tends to decrease overall turnout, among other issues it brings up (according to Fairvote.org).

    • Coverofnight says:

      TcB wrote, “…I know it may increase minority participation, and that’s a good thing.”

      Do you mean participation from candidates or from voters?

      Quite frankly, elections should be color-blind along with other criteria such as gender, religion, sexuality, etc. We need effective leadership in office and not electing someone for the sake of diversity! All one has to do is to see what happened when we voted “diversity” into the Oval Office. We need leaders, not “feel-good” candidates. And the electorate needs to be fully informed of each candidate’s stand (do you hear me, Joey Moretaxes?) on local issues that matter to each taxpaying citizen; that electorate includes EVERY minority group out there!

      To introduce minority concerns into the districting issue is simply, I feel, a ruse to lend credibility to these underhanded tactics of the Hole-in-the-Head gang. Don’t be distracted – we need to expose the what truly lies behind the selfish interests of the districting proponents.

      • TcB says:

        I was merely reporting the findings of fairvote.org, that minority participation is increased in the political process. However, certain other findings show the SMDP (single member district plurality) in a bad light. Gerrymandering, decreased overall turnout, and other issues make me feel that the district idea is not the right fit for the City of Burien. I think there is a way to work with something having an “instant runoff” but I don’t have a suggestion yet.

        from wikipedia:”In political science, the use of the plurality voting system alongside multiple, single-winner constituencies to elect a multi-member body is often referred to as single-member district plurality or SMDP.[2] Plurality voting is also variously referred to as winner-takes-all or relative/simple majority voting”

  2. Burien Lover says:

    There are plenty of good reasons to oppose electing Burien City Council members by districts, but “opponents have countered that districts/wards could deprive the city of the best candidates for council membership” is the silliest damn thing I ever heard.

    Any system that anyone devises is going to have good features and bad features. But to imply that some areas of the city are, by definition, devoid of good candidates is just plain nuts. Opponents of districts only hurt their cause if they make that argument. It’s just flat elitist. It’s like saying “but if we have districts, Lake Burien would only have one vote. And we all know the people who live on Lake Burien are the best candidates.”

    Burien isn’t big enough for districts. That’s all the argument anybody needs.

    • Chris says:

      Yep. And Burien isn’t big enough for a strong-mayor either. Either proposals do not bring anything meaningful to the table.

  3. May says:

    This is what will happen to Burien if these corrupt individuals and their friends are not removed from this council.


  4. May says:

    It looks like Districting Areas 1-6 worked good for Stockton and lead them right into Banruptcy Court. This is really something.

    I believe that all finacial documents need to be taken out of the hands of the people that are running this show.here in Burien An outside company needs to be hred to look over all finances. Once these people here lose control over the financial records, they will resign. I think it is time for Mike Martin and his friends to go back to see his friend Willie Brown in SF.


  5. John Poitras says:

    Thanks for the update Ralph 🙂

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