By Evan Smith
Seattle voters have decided to start electing most of their city council members by district, but council members in Edmonds and Lynnwood don’t want their cities to follow suit.
Many say it’s not needed because their councils already represent diverse parts of their cities and they fear that the cities could reduce their pools of candidates.
Edmonds City Councilwoman Diane Buckshnis is one who favors keeping the current system of electing all candidates at-large.
“The City of Edmonds barely get enough candidates to run for positions even without Districts,” she said Monday.
Buckshnis said that the current Edmonds council has a good geographic representation with one member from the Lake Ballinger area, one from the Firdale area, one from the Five-Corners area, two from the Bowl area, one from the Perrinville area and one from the Shoreview area.
“Council members all know that their responsibility is to listen to all the citizens,” she said.
Ruth Ross, who will return to the Lynnwood Council after winning a November election, agreed.
“Generally, I’m not in favor of establishing districts in smaller cities, such as Lynnwood,” she said. “We usually have a small pool of candidates for any given election already, and restricting candidates to a district could shrink the pool further. When someone can only run for one office, rather than three or four, it can discourage participation. In larger cities and counties, it makes more sense.”
Former Lynnwood Councilman Jim Smith, who lost a November bid to return to the council, agreed with Buckshnis and Ross.
“The downside is that it is hard enough to get people to run for office,” he said. “However, we seem to cover most geographical areas anyway. If we split Lynnwood into districts, it could actually harm certain areas since the elected people would consider their own area over an area outside of their districts.”
Smith said that, while he doesn’t favor such a change for Lynnwood, he would favor giving non-charter cities around the state the option of making the change.
Cities with home-rule charters can make such changes. Non-charter cities are governed by state law.
Edmonds City Councilman Strom Peterson agrees with Smith.
“I don’t think district positions are right for Edmonds,” he said. “We are too small to divide up into competing districts. When I’ve been out doorbelling, I don’t get an ‘us vs. them’ mentality that I think districting could bring about. I have found a real sense of community throughout Edmonds about Edmonds and not about individual neighborhoods or districts. I would hate to see that go away with districting.
“I’m certainly in favor of allowing code cities to adopt such a system if they feel it is warranted,” he added, “but I don’t think it’s right for Edmonds.”
Lynnwood Councilman Sid Roberts said that city councils are different from county and state legislative bodies.
“Larger geographic areas demand such a system. For instance, a dairy farmer in Arlington and a Starbucks barista in Edmonds have unique needs and their district candidates are usually uniquely qualified to represent them.” Roberts said. “This isn’t the case in Lynnwood.
“The voting population of Lynnwood shouldn’t be restricted to voting for people only in their own districts. I think the citizens deserve the best candidates and should be able to vote for all the candidates.”
Lynnwood Councilman Chris Boyer said it makes sense for cities to have the option. He said, however, that he is not sure if it would make sense for Lynnwood.
“We are certainly still small enough for candidates to make themselves known across the city,” he said. “If, however, it would increase minority representation, we should certainly consider it. I’m quite concerned about the scarcity of minority candidates in recent elections.”
Lynnwood Councilman Loren Simmonds said that he opposes such a change for his city.
“It is my belief that a community as small as Lynnwood needs a council that represents all of the city,” he said. “If Lynnwood were to annex all of its urban growth area, then the geographical spread might merit further consideration.
He raised another concern: “What happens to a district that does not have a candidate due to apathy, or whatever reason, come election time? Does the balance of the Council appoint someone for them?”
He added that electing council members by district runs the risk of pitting one segment of the community against others.
Edmonds Councilwoman Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said that she is uncertain about such a change.
Evan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.