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Everett may vote on council districts in fall

EVERETT —  A citizen initiative petition is in the works to have the council be elected by geographic voting districts for Everett on voters’ ballots this November.
A grassroots group, Everett Districts Now, made up of union groups and neighborhood leaders and which is supported by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP of Snohomish
County and the 38th Legislative District Demo-
crats, filed the petition to the city on Feb. 7 for approval.
They will need 8,000 Everett voter signatures by July to
have a ballot measure in the fall.
A forum on districts from the League of Women Voters has been scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on
Monday, March 20 at the Robert J. Drewel Building at the County Campus, 3000 Rockefeller Ave.
The ballot measure would ask to make five of the seven City Council seats elected by geographic district, with two others remaining at-large from anywhere in the city in order “to improve representation and create a voting system based on equity and justice,” according to the petition’s lead organizer, Megan Dunn, a longtime city activist.
Currently, all seven council members represent the
city at-large, but all except Jeff Moore live in Everett’s northern neighborhoods, leading to frequent public and political criticism over South Everett’s lack of adequate representation and North Everett seeming to reap a larger share of the city’s services and support.
Dunn first proposed voting districts to the City Council in fall 2015. The council responded by having the proposal studied last year under the city’s Charter Review Committee’s comprehensive review. Dunn herself was a member of the committee. The vote was 11-3 against recommending the proposal go to the
November 2016 general election ballot, at which point the City Council turned the issue over to its general government subcommittee to do further study.
This February, the sub-committee likewise rejected the proposal, instead recommending a course of intensified neighborhood outreaches to increase voter registration and education, leadership training, and, ironically, partnering with pro-districting groups like the League of Women Voters and the NAACP to provide more teaching about race and diversity.
Committee chair Councilman Paul Roberts explained to colleagues that “we concluded from the data that the issues we were considering were lack of citizen participation and engagement.”
Of Everett’s approximately 105,000 residents, 52,000 are registered to vote and a further 25,000 residents are eligible but aren’t registered.
The subcommittee of Roberts, Councilwoman Cassie Franklin and Councilman Scott Bader looked at demographic and geographic analysis
work and had hours of discussion before coming to this conclusion.
What has troubled the whole review process on voting districts, however, is the undeniable conflict of interest inherent in having the proposal investigated by the very governing body
that would be negatively impacted by the proposal.
Half of the Charter Review Committee members were appointed by the mayor
and the other half by councilmembers. In public comments, Mayor Ray Stephanson has been hands-off on the issue.
Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, who has been in favor of voting districts, pointed out the impropriety at the outset when the proposal was raised.
At the time, Stonecipher said people could be quick to judge that there is a conflict of interest since enacting districts could kick
some north Everett council members off the council.
Another districting supporter, community
activist Charlene Rawson, who ran unsuccessfully against Bader in 2015, described in a published commentary last week the upheaval the City Council would face should voting districts be enacted.
“Such a transition would force four of the current members to compete in District 1, and two to compete in District 2,” Rawson wrote in a Herald commentary. “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.)”
The petition was submitted with the city on Feb. 7 and a response had been received Feb. 22.
“The city did get back to us with a question on what would be done with properties that are annexed. That should be addressed, so it was helpful. We’ll be making revisions to put that in the wording,” she said.
Everett Districts Now would have to meet a July deadline for all the signatures to be collected and turned in for the proposal to go forward to the voters. A Facebook page for information and outreach will soon be up this month, said Dunn.
University of Washington emeritus professor Richard Morrill, who helped create the district boundaries in Seattle, which turned to council districts in 2013 after a public vote, also
formulated the petition’s proposed district boundaries for Everett.
“District boundaries Increase diversity,” Morrill said, “there’s legal criteria the Supreme Court has set down for districting. You have to have equal population and communities of same interests. You have to have an area that has recognized cohesion.”
“It’s not arbitrary geography,” he said. “You don’t break up neighborhoods.”

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