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Port Orchard delays redistricting vote

The division of Port Orchard into districts that would replace the at-large process now driving city council elections was postponed Wednesday night in order to provide an opportunity for increased public comment and accommodate council members’ schedules.

Currently, all seven members are elected at large with everyone in the city limits voting in both the primary election. The new plan would draw three separate districts reflecting the northeast, northwest and southern portions of the city.

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

Candidates would run in their own district in 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 every election year.

After discussion at three council meetings over the past few months, the matter was scheduled for comment and decision on Wednesday night. But with input from the council and the public, as well as the holiday schedule of two key council members, it is now scheduled for the Jan. 13 meeting.

The plan was developed by a committee headed by Councilman Fred Olin.

As presented to the council, it divides the city into three districts with roughly equivalent populations: northwest — 2,600; northeast — 2781; and, south — 2,789, based on the most recent census data.

The idea has been floating around for years, and Olin has spent several months developing his proposal. While the council was prepared to vote on the ordinance on Wednesday it was delayed after two issues emerged — encouraging further public input and better accommodating new residents from the projected annexation of McCormick Woods and other areas.

“If we pass this now, it will be immediately out of date when we annex McCormick Woods,” Planning Commissioner Gil Michael said. “The way this is drawn it appears that the current council members are trying to protect their seats and prevent four people from McCormick Woods from running against them.”

Michaels said it would not be a bad thing if the council was stacked with McCormick Woods residents, since it would infuse new political blood into local government. Further, he feels the issue should be addressed by the voters in the next general election (scheduled for November 2009) and that it is “too important to be decided by the council alone.”

Michael also questioned the census data used to draw the districts, pointing to several specific neighborhoods where the data apparently differed from the residents in those areas. Olin responded that the city was legally bound to use the data provided by the Kitsap County Auditor, and that actual voter totals will not be determined until the election.

Both Michael and Port Orchard resident Gerri Harmon objected to the political nature of the plan, arguing that it had been drawn to accommodate the residences of current council members.

This has already affected the complexion of the process, since the original proposal “grandmothered” Councilwoman Carolyn Powers and would allow her to stay in office after redistricting.

This was later found to be illegal, since elected officials on all levels must live in the area they represent.

Powers, who has not yet announced whether she will seek another term, said she wanted to delay council action on the plan in order to solicit more public comment. Michael and Harmon provided the only citizen comment.

Powers felt the confusion resulted from the discussion being advertised as both a “public hearing” and a “public meeting.”

While city staff maintained that the hearing/meeting was properly advertised, Powers said she was confused by this.

“I have been following city government for years and I was also confused by this,” Michael said. “If Councilwoman Powers was also confused, I don’t think the average voter understood they were supposed to comment tonight.”

Consequently, it took several motions to settle on a date. Powers and Olin will miss upcoming meetings, and scheduling the discussion for Dec. 23 was unacceptable due to its proximity to Christmas.

Michael, who still favors a public vote, said the extension would give people the opportunity to plan ahead in order to provide their input.

The city staff also resolved to aggressively advertise the meeting in order to get people to show up.

The matter is scheduled for discussion and possible decision, although the council could at that time decide to postpone action or move toward an election.

The McCormick Woods annexation could be close to completion, and would change the population balance if approved.

“If the annexation goes through it will change Port Orchard from a small to a medium-sized city,” Michael said. “This will lead to a new set of dynamics.”

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