Activists pitch plan to divide Everett into districts

EVERETT — A longtime activist in Everett has brought forth a proposal to elect City Council members by district.

Megan Dunn has been involved in a program that removed pesticides from Lowell Park and sat on the city’s Streets Initiative task force.

Her plan, which she said was a collaborative effort, would have five of the seven City Council seats be elected by district, with two others being selected at-large to represent the whole city. She recommended that the council’s new general governance committee take up the issue.

“Certainly for Washington there’s a trend of more cities moving toward districts,” Dunn said, citing the examples of Seattle and Yakima, which both have a district system that has yielded a more diverse group of council candidates.

Dunn pointed out that north Everett receives a disproportionate amount of services, such as support for the library, sewer improvements, and the ongoing emphasis on public safety and reducing the effects of the city’s chronic problems with homelessness, street nuisances, petty crime and addiction.

District elections would increase the geographic, racial and economic diversity of the council and give the south end more attention, a long-held perspective in the city reinforced by recent discussions about the “north-south” divide.

Some members of the City Council said they were open to considering the issue, even if it would mean some of them would be put out of a job.

Five out of the seven council members live north of 41st Street in Everett. Only Ron Gipson and Jeff Moore live in more southerly neighborhoods.

Councilman Paul Roberts said previous work had been done on the north-south discrepancy.

“What is constant in all this is that there has not been as much voter turnout in the south as in the north,” Roberts said.

He disagreed with Dunn’s suggestion to refer the district plan to the council’s general governance committee, and instead suggested the city’s Charter Review Commission would be better suited for studying the issue next year.

“I support that decision, I just don’t think the council is the appropriate place,” Roberts said.

Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said the commission, whose 14 members are hand-picked by the mayor and council, likely would reflect the will of those members.

“The perception (would be) we are selecting people who would be putting our jobs on the line,” Stonecipher said, with the implication that the idea would be dead on arrival.

Mayor Ray Stephanson weighed in to say that he was on the fence about creating districts, and said even the Charter Review Commission would have to make a recommendation to the council for action.

A quick motion to have the council committee take up the issue failed 4-2. Councilmen Roberts, Gipson, Moore and Scott Murphy voted against and Councilwomen Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy voted in favor. Scott Bader was absent.

Roberts asked whether the council could recommend the commission take up the issue next year, but Stonecipher spoke up against that idea.

“I would submit we don’t set their agenda,” she said.

Dunn also said she didn’t think the Charter Review Commission would be a fair venue because the mayor would hand-pick half of the members.

“Even if he was for it, it would still be biased. There is an unjust balance of power in this city,” she said.

Lowell resident Jackie Minchew, one of several supporters of districts who attended Wednesday’s council meeting, said he sees sending the issue to the commission as just kicking the can down the road, and said that in 2006 the commission only gave districts a cursory look and took no public comments before rejecting it.

“They did not discuss it thoroughly,” Minchew said.

Dunn said she had hoped the council would take up the issue so it would be involved in crafting whatever changes would be made to the city charter.

“Since they voted last night that they wouldn’t even look at the issue, it will be a citizen’s initiative, so we’ll decide the map and we’ll decide the boundaries,” she added.

Dunn said that there was no time frame for running an initiative and that she and her colleagues in the districting effort were still researching the issue.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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