Everett councilman wants a group to study districting

But the existing Everett Districts Now is concerned over “an attempt to confuse voters.”

EVERETT — There might be two measures on the November 2018 ballot dealing with Everett City Council districts.

One is expected from the group called Everett Districts Now. The other might come from the City Council, under a new proposal slated for discussion at Wednesday’s meeting.

Councilman Paul Roberts wants the council to create a committee to study districting. The committee would make a recommendation to the council, which could put forth a ballot measure for next year. Roberts had raised that idea this summer, when the council declined to put the Everett Districts Now plan to a public vote.

Districting “is something that needs to be discussed, and it needs to go through a public process, and there needs to be alternatives to be developed and looked at,” he said.

However, his proposal is drawing criticism from Everett Districts Now. The group says its plan took years to come together, with plenty of public input. They aren’t convinced further study is needed.

The council was too quick to dismiss the Everett Districts Now plan, said the group’s Mary Rollins at a recent public meeting. Now the council wants to create something new from scratch on a tighter deadline, she said.

“We are concerned mainly that there’s going to be an attempt to confuse voters,” she said.

The Everett Districts Now plan has been supported by the League of Women Voters and the local chapter of the NAACP, along with Councilmembers Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy.

It calls for the city to have five geographic districts. Voters in each district would elect their own councilmember. Two other council seats would remain at-large positions.

Proponents say that formula would increase political representation and make it easier for people to seek office, particularly from outside the Northwest neighborhood. That neighborhood traditionally has produced more candidates and seen more voter turnout than much of the city.

Opponents have questioned the number of districts, the size and shape of the districts, and the way that boundary lines would fall among neighborhoods. Those questions all would go before the committee, according to the Roberts memo.

Even without support from city leaders, Everett Districts Now could seek a ballot measure. They have been gathering signatures, but they didn’t have enough to qualify for this past election. They plan to try again in 2018, when signature requirements will be lower because of voter turnout patterns.

Everett Districts Now will need about 4,200 signatures to qualify next year, spokeswoman Megan Dunn said. It has more than 3,000.

The Roberts proposal calls for the council and the mayor to select most of the committee members. Everett Districts Now sees that as a “top-down” approach, Rollins said.

“We have the people in power deciding what our voting structure looks like and that’s just going to exacerbate the problem,” Dunn said.

Dunn also says that plan would repeat a pattern from the past. The city’s Charter Review Commission chose not to put districting on the ballot in 2016. Dunn said she believes that happened because a majority of the members were appointed by the mayor.

The League of Women Voters also has expressed concerns about the Roberts proposal. The league in October wrote a letter to councilmembers, urging them to stick with the Everett Districts Now plan.

Fewer districts “would look a lot like our present council membership, where the power is concentrated in one part of the city,” it said.

The League repeated those points in a recent letter to The Daily Herald’s opinion page.

Roberts says the committee will consider Everett Districts Now’s research.

“There was good work done,” he said. “It needs to be incorporated in this process.”

If formed, the council committee would be asked to make a recommendation by May.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

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