EVERETT — The City Council
is bringing geographic representation back into discussion with a new public process likely culminating in putting a city-led initiative on November’s ballot.
A plan introduced last week by Council President Paul Roberts and Councilman Jeff Moore would consist of workshops and public meetings from January to June discussing different options the city could take when considering geographic districts. The first public meeting would be scheduled for February.
The City Council isn’t the only group with a districting initiative in mind for the November ballot. The grassroots group Everett Districts Now is making a second attempt at a ballot initiative after missing last year’s ballot because of not meeting an abnormally high petition threshold.
“We’re going to move forward with a new initiative process,” Districts Now co-leader Greg Lineberry said.
One difference between the
proposals is the ratio of districted and at-large seats. Everett Districts Now’s proposal has five geographic seats whereas the City Council is considering four or five and wants the voters to decide which.
“The city is growing and is going to continue to grow and the 5-2 model … better accounts for that growth,” said Lineberry.
Roberts said he is “absolutely not taking (a 5-2 ratio) off of the table.”
The decision on which plan is preferred isn’t for the council to decide, according to Moore.
“We shouldn’t make that choice for our citizens, we should put that choice before our citizens,” Moore said.
This approach leaves the potential of two different initiatives on council districts to be on the same ballot.
“We are very concerned about (confusing voters). Our request to council was because of that concern for confusion, our preference would be that we be given the opportunity to go ahead and get our initiative on the ballot first,” Lineberry said.
While the City Council’s remedy for the two competing measures is to join forces with Everett Districts Now, the group has declined that invitation so far.
Moore said he’d prefer the two groups to work side-by-side on the initiative but cited a “lack of trust” Everett Districts Now has with the council.
After Everett Districts Now’s petition fell short, the City Council had the option to place an initiative on the 2017 ballot but voted 5-2 against doing so, citing problems with the way the group proposed to draw the districts among other issues.
“I think it’s a healthy public process for them to be involved with us and that we have open conversations and that we, together, get input and that it’s a unified ordinance that’s been collaboratively put together,” Moore said.
Lineberry said he believes having two measures on districting could pose a threat to either one passing because of voter confusion.
“In order to avoid confusion, we’d prefer to have the opportunity to go through that process without having some competing measure on the ballot,” Lineberry said. “We would hate to see multiple proposals and nothing passing.”
Everett Districts Now was unable to get the signatures it needed last summer to get an initiative on the 2017 ballot. The number of signatures required this year will be around 3,500, which is about 5,000 less than last year. The threshold drop is caused by a decrease in voter turnout in the 2017 election. The group came in with about 4,000 signatures in last year’s petition drive.
“We’re very confident we’re going to be able to get the signatures we need,” Lineberry said. “We got very positive reception on our last process. We’ve listened to some of the concerns that were raised and we’re in the process of making adjustments.”
Roberts and Moore want to see the districts group participate.
“I think we can bring this together,” Moore said. “I think there’s a win-win here, but it’s not quite ready yet. We still want them at the table.”
Roberts echoed Moore.
“I feel it is very much in the community’s interest to keep that door open and extend our hand to folks in the community who are passionate about this issue and work very hard,” Roberts said. “It seems to me there are opportunities to bring us together toward one end. I’m not convinced the differences between the proposals are so great they can’t be bridged.”
Pat Fogarty-Cramer, president of the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County, pledged her support for the council’s public process at last Wednesday’s City Council meeting. The League of Women Voters of Snohomish County also endorses Everett Districts Now.
Everett city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said both initiatives are allowed to be on the same ballot, but there’s no protocol in the city’s charter for what to do if both pass. The city attorney’s office is reviewing the charter in preparation of that possibility, Pembroke said.
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