City hears districting plan

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A plan to divide Port Orchard into three council districts gained traction this week, when advocates presented a draft plan as to how to structure the boundaries and manage elections.

“This is just a starting point,” said City Councilman Fred Olin, who helped to develop the plan. “It gives citizens in each district an opportunity to have their voices heard in every election.” 

The three districts represent the northeast, northwest and southern portions of the city. With some exceptions, the main dividing streets are Tremont and Sidney.

The three districts have roughly equivalent populations — northwest, 2600; northeast, 2781 and south, 2789.

The boundaries were determined after Olin acquired the most recent census data from the Kitsap County Auditor on Sept. 10.

The plan allocates two council members from each district, with one at-large seat.

Candidates would run in their own district for the primary, while the entire city would vote for all the candidates in the general election.

Aside from the two-year at large position, all council terms last four years.

The elections would be staggered, so each district would elect one council member for every election.

Council elections are held in odd-numbered years. The city council on Tuesday directed staff to prepare a resolution supporting the plan, with the intention of implementing the plan for the 2009 election.

Coincidentally, all of the current council members — aside from Carolyn Powers — live in the district they now represent.

The longest-serving member of the council, Powers will be exempt from the restriction, or “grandmothered in,” for as long as she chooses to serve and can win re-election.

But anyone running against Powers will need to live in the proscribed district.

Since the plan is based on population, the district lines could be changed after any annexation action. For instance, incorporating McCormick Woods, with an estimated 1,300 registered voters, would require the lines to be immediately redrawn.

Annexation Committee Chairman Dick Davis said the annexation would change the population balance and give McCormick Woods the ability to elect a disproportionate amount of city council members.

“Even so, I have yet to meet someone from McCormick Woods who wants to run for city council,” he said.

Supporters of the plan feel that it does not depend on what land the city may or may not incorporate.

“We should do this before annexation,” said Councilman John Clausen, who, with Olin and Jim Colebank, developed the plan. “So the people who are being annexed know what the rules are in advance.”

Powers, who called the plan “confusing,” asked whether the public should be more involved in the plan’s development.

Councilman Fred Chang asked whether the matter should be put to a vote.

In response, City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick said it could cost the city as much as $28,000 for a ballot measure, depending on how many other initiatives or candidates are on the ballot.

As a result, both Chang and Powers supported the motion to write a resolution and then schedule a public hearing for discussion.

Following this schedule, the plan could be up for a vote at the Oct. 28 general meeting.

Davis said he doesn’t think the redistricting will be accomplished prior to the McCormick Woods annexation, saying, “There could be a firestorm if they try to do this by fiat.” 

Cedar Cove Inn owner Gil Michael favors putting the matter to a vote, despite the cost.

“I understand the logic of this proposal,” Michael said during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “But this represents a fundamental change about how we make decisions and do business. It is important that the public be informed of the process and can participate in making this change.”

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