City charter committee dismisses district elections

EVERETT — Advocates for electing City Council members by district continue to push their cause despite the idea being removed from consideration by the city’s Charter Review Committee.

The charter committee presented its report to the City Council on Wednesday.

The committee was tasked with going over the city’s charter, its governing document, and recommending to the City Council any changes it believed should be made in how the city operates.

It will be up to the council to decide which issues, if any, should be put before the voters on the November ballot.

The committee recommended three small changes, but people still came out to encourage the council to go beyond the committee’s recommendation and adopt a plan to have their positions elected by districts.

Ron Young said that Washington state has a problem with low voter participation, and that districting would be a good way to engage more people in the political process, and that a combination of district and at-large positions should be considered.

“I think the evidence is pretty clear that that combination would systematically or substantially encourage more participation from more of the citizens of the city,” Young said.

“With this issue I think we have some changes to make that could, in fact, help more people, including lower-income people, minorities, to have a sense that this council and this city is theirs, and they need to and should be active participating in it and be represented in the council by people that they know from their area of the city,” he said.

Brenda Bolanos-Ivory, a resident of the Bayside neighborhood, said there was a significant amount of diversity between north, central and south Everett.

“Because there’s contentious opinions on this issue, I encourage you to put it on the ballot and let the citizens decide,” she said.

Lowell resident Megan Dunn proposed a districting measure in October that would have made five of the seven council seats elected by district. Others also have brought districting plans forward in years past.

Dunn also is the vice chairman of the charter review committee. She attended but did not speak at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Reid Shockey, the committee’s chairman, said districting was among the most-talked about issues, but the committee voted 11-3 not to recommend any changes to how officials are elected. The group met 11 times over three months and in the end made three relatively small recommendations.

“They’re not major but they’re things that if you review it, and you decide it should go to the voters and the voters should approve it, it will bring our charter into the 21st century,” Shockey told the council.

The proposed changes would, first of all, release the council of its obligation to meet every week if they don’t have any business to conduct. The second recommendation would authorize the city clerk to make changes to the charter to fix errors and change outdated language and gender references.

The third issue would require the council to consider the city’s diversity, including geographic diversity, when appointing people to official boards and committees.

The committee also discussed, but did not recommend, creating a separate committee focused on transit operations, and changing the way utility funds are sometimes transferred to the general fund to balance budgets.

Some City Council members, including Cassie Franklin and Brenda Stonecipher, advocated having a council subcommittee study districting as a possible charter amendment.

When the council took up the issue in October, however, they voted instead to send it to the Charter Review Committee.

The city has until its July 27 meeting to approve which, if any, amendments to include on the November election ballot.

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

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