City Council, Everett Districts Now may merge ballot items

The council’s geographical-districting ordinance is expected to include changes from the citizen group.

EVERETT — The two groups making separate proposals to create Everett City Council districts are considering putting a joint measure on November’s ballot to avoid confusing voters.

The most recent draft of the City Council’s ordinance is expected to include some changes presented by Everett Districts Now, the independent group that has long been pushing a districting plan. The June 20 council meeting marked the first time the two sides talked publicly about working together on an item for the general election.

The council has seven seats, all drawn from at-large elections. Everett Districts Now and the City Council want to give voters the chance to switch some seats to be elected directly by geographic districts.

The main difference between the plans is the minimum number of districts.

Both proposals include an option with five positions based on geographic districts and two at-large. The city’s measure adds an alternative of four district positions and three at-large. Everett Districts Now has campaigned on the platform of at least five district seats for over a year.

Council President Paul Roberts this week said the updated ordinance will be finished soon. It needs to be approved by the council before it can be submitted for the ballot.

Last month, the city conducted a survey asking people for districting feedback. Of the 483 participants, 74 percent favored five or more district seats. The city’s 4-3 option was the least popular. The survey cost the city $125.

The council’s proposed measure was drafted with the help of Hugh Spitzer, a University of Washington law professor. During last week’s City Council meeting, he said the survey’s findings didn’t influence the language of the ordinance, prompting comments about the legitimacy of the data.

Councilman Jeff Moore said he doesn’t “put a lot of weight into online surveys.”

“We’re involved with a lot of statistics in my day job (at the Everett School District) and 500 responses within 53,000 voters is statistically insignificant by a large margin,” he said.

Megan Dunn, a leader with Everett Districts Now, said nearly 500 participants is significant, noting that 17,512 residents voted in the most recent mayoral election in November.

Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said ignoring the survey results would be insulting to those who participated. The number of participants is “nothing to sneeze at,” she said.

“Having a 4-3 option on anything that goes forward to voters, to me, is a real puzzle,” she said. “I would have a very hard time supporting that.”

Roberts said he supported the 4-3 option despite its poor reception in the survey. He said his job requires him to consider the needs of the entire city, not just those who participated in the survey.

Everett Districts Now offered an alternative to the council’s 4-3 option, instead suggesting a system of five district positions and three at-large. This would add another seat to the council, mirroring the Tacoma City Council.

Mayor Cassie Franklin said the addition would be expensive for the city. A position on the Everett City Council pays $28,163 a year.

Unlike Everett, Tacoma operates with a city manager form of government, meaning its mayor acts as a voting member of the council. Everett’s mayor serves as an executive and doesn’t vote on council matters.

Everett Districts Now is continuing to collect signatures for its ballot measure. As of Friday, the group has about 2,000 signatures, with some yet to be counted, Dunn said. It needs about 3,500 by noon on July 16.

The deadline for the city to submit its proposal is Aug. 7. The council could vote on its ordinance at its July 11 meeting.

Joseph Thompson: 425-339-3430; Twitter: @JoeyJThomp.

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