By Charlene Rawson
In 2012, the Herald Editorial Board was the first voice to call for the city of Everett to transition from at-large council positions to district representation in order to improve representation and voter participation.
Shortly after that editorial was published, a group of thoughtful community activists, lead by two or three particularly independent and courageous elected officials, began to meet to discuss the merits of such a change and formulate strategy for getting that change enacted by city government or to put the question before the voters as a ballot initiative. From the start, we knew in our hearts that Door No. 2 was the most likely path necessary to achieve our goal and so it has proved to be.
The resistance from most members of the City Council and the mayor’s office was expected and continues. That the council’s Government Sub-Committee would reject the proposal was also expected. Our proposal calls for two districts located north of 41st Street and three located south of 41st with only two positions to be elected city wide. Such a transition would force four of the current members to compete in District 1, and two to compete in District 2. Only Council Member Jeff Moore, who lives near Silver Lake would be spared the unpleasant reality of having to compete with a colleague. (Of course, two members would still have the option to run city-wide.)
With regard to the Charter Review Commission’s rejection of the proposed change, that might carry some weight were the members of that body elected by the citizens, (as they should be.) However, most participants are hand-picked by the mayor after which each councilmember gets one appointee. With Megan Dunn having been appointed by Brenda Stonecipher, there was no doubt council districts would be proposed but the deck was already stacked against the measure.
The editorial published Friday, “Council districrs not answer for Everett’s neighborhoods,” could easily have been written by one particular councilmember with whom I have had many conversations about this issue. I’m thrilled to hear that the council is attempting to step up outreach to our neighborhoods after years of imposing budgetary cutbacks to the Office of Neighborhoods to the detriment of our 19 neighborhood associations and community vibrancy city-wide. Under the current format, regardless of attempts to dispatch north end dwelling leaders to our south end neighborhoods, the equation remains the same. Until all areas of our city are fully represented by leaders who know the area the represent first hand, the challenges present cannot be fully appreciated.
This ballot initiative is coming, make no mistake. The coalition in support has grown, and continues to grow, to include the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the 38th Legislative District Democrats, and several labor unions. Those signatures required to get our initiative on the ballot will be gathered and the measure WILL pass whereupon representation will come to all our neighborhoods at last.
New leaders will rise up and evolve as their opportunities arise. Elections will finally be decided at the door or at neighborhood meetings, instead of in the mailbox. Increased voter registration and participation will result.
It is time for citizens to feel true, heartfelt response from the people they pay to lead and we are going to make that happen.
Si se puede. Yes we can!
Charlene Rawson lives in Everett.