Strong-mayor vote reveals divided town in Snohomish

SNOHOMISH — People in Snohomish couldn’t be more divided on whether to welcome a strong-mayor form of government.

Final election tallies show Proposition 2 passed by just nine votes, promising a change in how City Hall operates.

Mayor Karen Guzak and seven others have requested a recount.

Meanwhile, one of the proposition’s biggest supporters now says he didn’t vote for the measure. That’s because he couldn’t.

Bill Betten, who served as chairman of the group that backed Proposition 2, said Friday he’s not registered to vote in the city.

“I live 300 feet outside the city limits of Snohomish,” Betten said. He wondered why a reporter was asking whether he had standing to argue for change at City Hall.

“He doesn’t pay taxes, doesn’t pay utilities” in the city, Guzak said. “He’s not a city resident.”

While awaiting the results of the recount, the City Council plans a special meeting Monday to discuss next steps.

If the election results hold, clearing the way for a new mayor with more authority, the council will be ready to make the transition, Guzak said.

Precinct results highlight the division among Snohomish voters. The middle of town voted against the proposition. Neighborhoods to the east and west voted in support.

Guzak believes people may not have understood what was at stake. She pointed to the 417 people from Snohomish who weighed in on other matters on their ballots, but opted to skip voting on the strong-mayor proposal.

Guzak lives in the historic district in the center of town. That area voted most strongly against making a change.

“We weren’t effective in getting the message out to the whole city,” Guzak said.

John Kartak, a member of the group that supported the proposition, lives three blocks from Guzak. His neighbors supported the change, election results show.

Betten, who lives east of town near the Pilchuck River, said on Friday there was no legal reason he couldn’t advocate for change inside Snohomish, or any other city around the state for that matter. He also said he was confident that people who voted in support of Proposition 2 knew that he doesn’t live in town.

“I’ve been very transparent with that,” he said.

On June 23 Betten filed a petition with the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in an attempt to recall Guzak. The address he used was inside city limits.

Three weeks later, Betten withdrew his petition. He said his family had been harassed.

Only voters registered within the city can file a petition to recall a public official there, said Garth Fell, the county elections manager.

On Aug. 8, Betten filed a second petition, seeking a court order to change the language in the voter’s pamphlet describing Proposition 2. That petition listed his actual home address outside the city. It was later denied.

The auditor’s office verifies the addresses supplied by voters to ensure they fall within the voting jurisdiction, Fell said. However, it is up to the voter to register an accurate address.

Any voter who has concerns about someone’s registered address can bring a challenge, Fell said.

Betten acknowledged Friday that for a time during the summer he said he lived inside city limits. He said it wouldn’t be accurate to suggest questions about his residency played a part in his decision to drop the recall attempt or to challenge the ballot language on the proposition.

“I’m saying ‘no comment,’” he said. “This has already been handled by the county.”

He also declined to elaborate on earlier claims that he stepped away from the legal challenges because of harassment.

Betten said he has lived in Snohomish for more than 40 years. He and his daughter attended Snohomish schools, he said.

“I am just as much a part of this community as anyone who lives 300 feet down the road,” he said.

Proposition 2 backers criticized the current city manager, Larry Bauman, for living outside of Snohomish. Bauman’s home is in Shoreline in north King County.

The county expects to release recount results Dec. 9 and certify the results three days later.

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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