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Port Orchard districting plan will rearrange Powers
Veteran city council member’s status one of the key sticking points being debated
The idea of dividing Port Orchard into districts rather than electing all city council members at large has moved forward, and was expected to be addressed at a Tuesday night study session.
Following this, the measure could be placed on the council agenda and approved during the Oct. 28 meeting.
The idea, which was first brought forward by City Councilman Fred Olin, is to more evenly distribute the representation of the city to incorporate other areas, and out of the hands of a geographical majority (council members Jerry Childs, Fred Chang, Rob Putaansuu, Carolyn Powers and John Clauson, for example, all live in the same general area).
The notion that districts would improve the depth and breadth of representation seems to have popular support, as does the idea that Port Orchard is ready for such a move.
On the other hand, both the timing of the action and the manner of its execution has raised some opposition to the upcoming action.
“This idea has been floating around for a long time,” said Cedar Cove Inn owner Gil Michael. “I question the timing of doing it now, amid this flurry of annexation. And I also think that it is wrong to do this by ordinance. This is such an important change that people should have the ability to vote for or against it.
“To do otherwise is irresponsible and self-serving,” he said, “and it is an example of the worst kind of gerrymandering.”
According to Olin’s plan, which is bound to be modified, 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 — and are based on the most recent census data.
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. The elections would be staggered, so each district would elect one council member for every election.
Another sticking point has to do with the proposed district boundaries, and the fact that they were drawn up to reflect both population and where incumbent councilors now live.
The plan initially allowed Powers, the second-longest serving member of the council, to live in one district and represent another. According to the plan, when Powers retired her replacement would need to run from the new district, as would any other candidate who opposed her in the future.
The plan was scuttled after City Attorney Greg Jacoby found that it was unlawful and unconstitutional for an elected official to live outside of a district he or she represents.
Residency challenges, in fact, are common occurrences in American politics.
This question can be addressed several ways. Powers could run for another term, but oppose another incumbent council member. As drawn, this would pit her against Chang, who said, “If my only choice was to run against Carolyn, then I might not run at all.”
Jacoby suggests the boundaries could be redrawn in order to reflect current council residences, in a way that would accommodate Powers.
Or Powers could decide to not seek another term.
Powers said Monday she has yet to make that decision, and had no timetable to do so. She did say that any council action “should be about the position rather than the person.”
Olin has acknowledged that any district boundaries would need to be redrawn after an annexation, specifically the action governing McCormick Woods (which could increase the voting population by one third).
In a worst-case political scenario, under the current system McCormick Woods residents could elect a council majority to create a greater imbalance than what exists today.
Establishing districts prior to the annexation would keep any one neighborhood from dominating. Michael, however, feels any districts should not be created until the current spate of annexations are complete.
“I think this is being done today to protect political positions by people who are worried about being re-elected,” Michael said. “But if they are so concerned about this, they should just pay better attention to the issues.”
Olin said his motives are pure and have nothing to do with any political forces other than the desire to equalize the representation.
“I think it is healthier to spread representation throughout the entire city,” he said. “And we will set it up so everyone in each district will have the chance to vote someone out during each election.”
“Districts will change everything,” said Cindy Lucarelli, who narrowly lost her bid for a council seat last year. “But I think districting has a lot to do with annexation. If one thing happens, the other will fall into place. But there are a lot of issues we have to consider, such as whether there could be an election where no one from a particular district wants to run for council.”
For his part, Michael does not want to see the matter on the next council agenda.
“If we create districts now, we will need to redraw them after annexation,” he said. “I think we should wait.”