Signature-gatherers dispute deadline to make Everett ballot

EVERETT — A city-imposed deadline has come and gone, but backers of a proposal to change the makeup of the Everett City Council are arguing that they should have more time to gather signatures to get their issue on the November ballot.

City Hall says they’re too late — for this year, anyway — to guarantee that signatures could be verified in time.

Wednesday was the date the city had given Everett Districts Now to come up with more than 8,000 valid voter signatures. The petitions were not filed by then. Everett Districts Now still could submit signatures in the next week or two but it’s no sure thing the signatures would be found valid in such a short time frame.

The grassroots group argued the city was in error when it set a July 5 deadline. They point to a provision in the city charter that they say gives the group until Sept. 20 to turn in the petitions.

Everett Districts Now cites Section 16.2 of the city’s charter, which states that the signatures of qualified voters must be submitted no less than 45 days in advance of a general or special election. Their goal has been to get it on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

“Ultimately, we don’t want to be held to dates that are created administratively,” Greg Lineberry, a backer of the proposal, said earlier this week. “We want to be held to what the law is.”

The city late Wednesday afternoon said it believes state law supersedes what’s in the city’s charter.

City attorney Jim Iles outlined the city’s position in a two-page memo drafted Wednesday afternoon and sent to the mayor, City Council and other city staff.

Iles argued that state election law requires that the City Council prepare an ordinance that would “be presented to the county auditor no later than the day of the primary,” which is Aug. 1. He wrote that the group’s interpretation is not reasonable because it creates a direct conflict between state law and the City Charter.

“It is settled in this area of the law in the state of Washington that state law always trumps a city charter,” Iles wrote.

If the petitions are filed in September, an election would have to occur in 2018, Iles wrote.

Everett Districts Now plans to review the city’s memo.

“We will certainly be interested to see what statute the city cites that they believe overrides city law,” Lineberry said in a Wednesday email before the city released the memo.

“There are certain sections of state law, such as setting when general election dates are, that specifically read the state law supersedes any local law,” Lineberry wrote. “If the city is aware of a law that pertains to cutoff dates that is established by the state and that specifies, just as the general election dates statute does, that state law supersedes and invalidates Everett law, we will need to see that.”

In a June 16 email to Lineberry, the city of Everett said it needed the petitions by July 5.

“The July date proposed by the city of Everett came as a surprise to Everett Districts Now,” Lineberry said in an email to fellow supporters of the petition drive. “Our group submitted the petition proposal to the city well before we started to gather signatures. No dates were suggested by the city when they responded, and no discussions have occurred since then.”

Iles wrote that the city had been open with the group, but is not in a position to act as an elections adviser.

Lineberry, who works as an Everett police captain, said his group understood that it would have been difficult for the city to comply with the law on its books. Many cities and counties across the state changed their petition and initiative process beginning in 2003, but Everett was not one of them.

Members of Everett Districts Now began the campaign in April under the presumption they had until late July to collect and turn in 8,100 signatures of registered voters to qualify.

Their goal is to get wider geographic representation on the council. Today, one City Council member lives in south Everett and the other six live within a mile and a half of Everett High School, according to the group.

The proposed initiative would amend the City Charter to require five of the seven seats be elected from five geographical districts of approximately 20,000 residents each. That, they argue, would give more representation to the central and southern parts of the city, which have more racially and economically diverse populations. The other two council seats would remain at-large positions.

The city’s Charter Review Commission chose not to put the idea on the ballot in 2016 and a council subcommittee also declined in mid-February. That prompted the campaign to try to get a measure on the ballot.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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