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Everett council districts to be on ballot

EVERETT — Voters will decide this fall whether to reorganize the City Council by electing some of its members using new geographic districts.
The City Council approved placing two measures onto November’s ballot: One asking if districts should be implemented, and one asking the public to choose whether the seven-member council should be reshaped using either five or four district seats.
The first district elections would be in 2021, creating a full turnover for four or five seats. District maps would be drawn in 2020 concurrent to the U.S. Census. A volunteer nine-member districts commission would be created, and council would select almost all its members.
The City Council unanimously approved the measures.
Only one disagreement cropped up: whether to have voters decide between a four-district system or a five-district system, versus no choice at all. The council voted against an amendment favored by Councilwomen Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy to simplify the measure.
Districting supporters are firm that a 5-2 system is needed to break up the council seats enough. A system with three at-large seats could allow four council members — one voted in for the area’s district — to potentially be neighbors.
It seemed almost inevitable the council would go for districts this year. A city survey this summer showed that 80 percent of the public wants districts, and a majority supports a system with five or more districts.
A separate, grassroots effort called Everett Districts Now has been advancing its own pro-districts ballot initiative for 2018 after missing the 2017 ballot.
The city recently consulted with Everett Districts Now to more closely align the two competing measures. There were open overtures to the group to shut down its measure and consolidate forces.
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 citizen-led group missed out on having a similar initiative reach last year’s ballot. While last year’s initiative had 4,000 petition signatures it fell short of an approximately 8,500 voter threshold to get onto the ballot. The annual threshold varies based on 10 percent of the prior year’s election turnout.
A Hail Mary attempt to have the City Council endorse and cement the group’s measure onto the 2017 ballot got voted down because while most council members support districting, many were wary about endorsing the group’s data and map boundaries that hadn’t been vetted by city authorities.
The conversation on districts began out of concern that North Everett holds a gripping majority of council seats. Districting advocates argue that using location boundaries to break up the seats will provide fairer representation for the public.
Right now, four of the seven council members happen to live in the affluent Northwest Neighborhood within blocks from each other, as did former Mayor Ray Stephanson. (Current Mayor Cassie Franklin lives in the nearby Port Gardner Neighbohrood.) Only two council members live in South Everett.
Seattle implemented a 7-2 district system in 2015. Other cities that use districts include Yakima and Spokane.
When Yakima introduced districts in 2015, two Latinos won their districts, giving the city its first Latino council members in its history, The Seattle Times reported.


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