It’s increasingly likely that Everett will eventually join more than 20 other cities in the state that elect at least some of their city council members by district, rather than the city’s current at-large representation.
The questions to be determined include how soon that change might take place and what it will look like.
City residents can have a voice in helping to answer those questions during a series of four meetings during the next two weeks as the city continues work to prepare a ballot measure for the November election. Those meetings will be followed by an online survey in May.
If adopted, a district system would bring a significant change in how city residents are represented on the council. It’s seen as a way to amplify the voice of residents regarding their concerns for their neighborhoods as well as encourage greater participation in elections and in daily civic life. Among past complaints about the makeup of the council has been a history of more frequent elections and appointments of council members from the city’s neighborhoods in the north side than from the south.
A district system was considered during the city’s charter review discussions in 2016, but was ultimately rejected by the charter review committee and the city council. Those rejections, however, prompted the launch last year of an independent campaign, Everett Districts Now, which has developed a proposal for a system of five council members elected to districts with two positions elected at-large. Everett Districts Now was unsuccessful last year in collecting enough signatures to put its proposal on the ballot, but is again gathering signatures for a November ballot measure that may compete with the city-proposed measure.
If EDN gets its measure on the ballot, it would likely be the quickest route to establishing districts, but there’s reason for the city and its residents to take some time with this change and consider other options.
Most of the discussion to this point has focused on two competing proposals, specifically EDN’s five districts and two at-large seats and a proposal for four districts and three at-large seats. But those aren’t the only possibilities. Bellingham, for example has six council members elected by individual wards with one at-large seat. Bremerton city council’s seven seats are all elected by district, while Spokane is represented by six council members, with two elected from each of three districts.
Everett might be best served by a system similar to that of Spokane, electing one at-large and two each from three districts. Limiting the number of districts to three could result in a council that still offers balanced representation but with boundary lines that are less like to split neighborhoods. Fewer districts also would offer a larger pool of qualified candidates for each district and would mean the two council members in each district could share one district office, a cost savings over five separate district offices.
There’s also a risk that with several small districts the focus of each district’s representative may become too parochial, when much of the work of the council requires a citywide and even regional outlook.
More than just the makeup of the council, the process will need to consider how those representatives will be elected; whether districts would elect candidates in a primary election to be consider citywide in the general election or whether the districts would vote separately in both elections.
The city-outlined process also envisions the establishment of a districts commission and the help of a geographer/demographer who would work with the commission to determine district boundaries and address other issues of representation.
But these are all issues that require ideas and guidance from those whom the council represents.
If the intent of council districts is to improve representation in Everett, its residents need to speak up now as to how this should work.
Council districts meetings set
Four meetings are scheduled that will outline options for city council districts and offer information on Everett’s demographics. The meetings are scheduled for:
6:30 to 8 p.m. April 17, Everett School District headquarters, 3900 Broadway;
6:30 to 8 p.m. April 19, Evergreen Middle School cafeteria, 7621 Beverly Lane;
3 to 4:30 p.m. April 25, Everett Housing Authority Bakerview Apartments meeting room, 2605 15th St.;
6:30 to 8 p.m. April 30, Evergreen Middle School cafeteria, 7621 Beverly Lane.
More information about the city process is available at www.everettwa.gov/districting.
For information about Everett Districts Now’s proposal go to districtsnow.org/.