Burien City Council Places Consideration of Districts/Wards on Hold until June
The Burien City Council will take up again in June the divisive question of whether individual council members should be elected from districts/wards rather than city wide.
Council members agreed at their March 25 study session to delay further consideration until after the current legislative session.
State legislators in Olympia now have before them House Bill 1413 – the Washington Voting Rights Act – which would make it easier for voters to seek a change from at-large to district-based municipal elections.
Supporters of HB 1413 say this would give better representation for all residents of a community, which is similar to what Burien council members who favor a change to districts/wards for local elections are saying.
What the Legislature does with the Washington Voting Rights Act could influence what the Burien City Council does on this issue.
“This is a very complicated proposal,” said Councilwoman Rose Clark. “I feel that we at this point in time do not have time to do this issue justice.”
She suggested that a study committee and a facilitator be appointed to consider it with a date certain to report back to the council.
Councilman Gerald Robison agreed with Clark, saying “I sense a lot of fear over this.”
But, he continued, in the past Burien has had a “disproportionate vote” for council members and changing to districts/wards “is a way to even that.”
Robison then questioned whether state law allows for a public vote on switching to council districts/wards.”
City Attorney Craig Knutsen agreed that such a decision likely is the sole province of the council, then allowed that this “doesn’t mean we can’t have an advisory ballot” for city voters.
“Previous councils didn’t opt for advisory ballots,” observed Councilwoman Joan McGilton, not even on the issue of North Highline annexations.
Nevertheless, McGilton stressed, five city council members from west of Ambaum Blvd. and only one north of the downtown “points to great bias….
“There is not a representative from the newly annexed area or the east side of the city. These areas truly are not represented.”
Earlier in the study session, Councilman Jack Block Jr. said “the council should not make this decision. I feel strongly that this is a decision that should be made by the voters.”
Following the discussion about the limitations of state law on the proposed action, Block said “the citizens have a right to at least tell us if they favor” or oppose council districts/wards.
He also asked, “Are we doing everything we can to attract people to this job? We need to address [raising] council compensation,” which is now $600 a month for three council meetings plus committee meetings and homework.
Jim Clingan told council members that whether the question is changing to a strong mayor form of government or changing to districts/wards, “I believe that every option needs to have a public vote.”
Mayor Brian Bennett declared “this issue is worth considering. Part of the concern I’ve heard from people who favor districts is that they are not represented.”
Bennett said some of them say “they are not even able to communicate with certain council members.”
Council members then agreed to delay further discussion until after the Legislature takes its final action on HB 1413.