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Council may put districts on ballot; vote is July 31


 
EVERETT — In a twist, the City Council is considering putting out a ballot measure asking the public whether or not the council should be largely reshaped
by geographic boundaries. If the council approves, it would be on the ballot regardless of whether a citizen-driven initiative trying for the same goal succeeds in crossing a minimum threshold in gathering signatures by its
Aug. 1 deadline.
The council will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 31 to hold a public hearing and vote on putting the measure on this November’s ballot. The agenda for the Wednesday, Aug. 2 meeting will move to July 31 for this vote. The council will meet at 3002 Wetmore Ave.
The measure asks to restructure the City Council by having five of the seven
council seats elected by geographic districts from the residents in that district; right now the entire council
is elected in citywide races.
The shift to localized representation is known elsewhere as the ward system.
City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher initiated putting the item up for a future vote at last week’s council meeting.
A grassroots group working to put it on the ballot confirmed last week it has gathered at least 3,000 signatures so far. But the group, Everett Districts Now, needs at least 8,100 signatures to get its initiative on the ballot.
The county’s deadline to put any measure on the November ballot is Aug. 1. 
The 8,000 signature threshold is based on 10 percent of the overall voter turnout from the 2016 general election in Everett. 
Stonecipher argued that 8,000 signatures is a periodically high number because it’s pegged to a Presidential election year.
On off years, that voter turnout is much lower; in 2015, for example, almost 16,000 residents cast ballots that November, making the threshold almost 1,600 signatures to get an Everett city initiative onto 2016’s ballot.
Stonecipher said last week that the citizen’s effort would have eclipsed the threshold from any other election year.
Council President Judy Tuohy seconded Stonecipher’s motion to hold a forthcoming vote.
Councilwoman Cassie Franklin raised concerns on how the citizens group’s proposed boundaries split up neighborhoods. The consultant the citizens group used to help draw the boundaries “is certainly an expert in the field, but not an ‘expert on Everett’,” Franklin said. 
Franklin initially suggested setting up a ballot measure asking yes or no on the idea of districts, and then drawing the district lines later if the measure passes.
It’s because of state law that the districts were drawn according to population sizes to make each district equally populated, Everett Districts Now leader Megan Dunn explained.
Tuohy and Franklin are both running to become Everett mayor.
With a vote in play last week, council members debated whether to take the vote that night and also whether to instead send the topic back to a committee for more review to possibly make districts a 2018 ballot measure.
Supporters for council districts have not seen much hope in committees before. That’s what prompted the group to make a citizen initiative.
A City Council subcommittee this spring gave a detailed, multi-month look at districts and generally decided against the idea until Everett is a larger city. Instead, the subcommittee recommended to “get out the vote” to have people engaged in politics. The city’s upcoming “Citizens Academy” class to teach people how City Hall works is one way the recommendation is being followed through on.
At last week’s meeting, Councilman Jeff Moore emphasized that the ballot measure vote should have all seven council members present, as neither Moore nor Councilman Paul Roberts could make the July 26 meeting. Tuohy set the specially timed meeting July 31 to have a full council present.
The council asked whether it could take an emergency vote that night, however emergency measures are meant mainly for immediate public safety issues. “This is a stretch” to consider council districts an emergency, city attorney Jim Iles advised.

 

 

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