News

Politics in play in County Council's redistricting

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

A new committee has started the work to determine the look of a smaller King County Council next fall, but not without controversy.

Voters approved an amendment to the county charter in November, shrinking the council membership from 13 to nine. A second question asked when the process would start: Immediately or in time for the 2007 elections. Voters wanted the change to happen sooner.

The council on Nov. 22 appointed four members of the committee that change the council district boundaries. Both political parties selected two people to keep the partisan politicking to a minimum. But that happenedm anyway, when Republican council members Pete von Reichbauer and Jane Hague supported Steve Dennis and were supported by most of the Democrats.

Councilman Rob McKenna, a Republican and state attorney general-elect, explained the event as a "split of opinion within the Republican caucus."

Councilman David Irons, chairman of the council's Republican caucus, said the other GOP council members objected to Dennis' appointment because they wanted at least one of the Republicans to have some experience with districting.

A majority of the Republicans, led by McKenna, tried to remove Dennis' name from the committee and insert Richard Derham.

Dennis is the retired former chief executive officer of Quadrant Homes, one of the largest homebuilders in the state and a subsidiary of Federal Way-based Weyerhauser.

Von Reichbauer, whose district includes Federal Way, said he wanted appointees with ties to south King County, and that was his motivation in supporting Dennis and selecting Rowley. He noted the south part of the county has been the "poor step-child" of north King County in the past.

Appointees were asked by council members if they wanted to serve, and then their names were presented during a public meeting, von Reichbauer said.

While saying that Dennis was an "outstanding person," Irons said the retired CEO didn't have the experience a majority of the Republicans wanted. Irons noted the committee members appointed by the Democrats are attorneys –– experienced negotiators familiar with law –– and one has experience on a districting committee. Neither Republican appointee has districting experience, and both are businessmen.

However, Democratic appointee Michael Mann is not an attorney, but an employee with the city of Seattle. He has served on a districting committee.

Derham's name was brought forward by the majority of the council Republicans because of his credentials. A retired attorney from the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, he served on the state districting committee in 2001.

Saying that he and Derham are friends and had recently lunched, von Reichbauer said he didn't support the former King County Republican Party chairman because when he was on the state districting committee, the GOP lost House and Senate seats. And von Reichbauer, pointing to Dennis' experience with business agreements, said he wanted negotiators on the committee, not lawyers.

Not that he opposes lawyers, but he would "rather use them than be led by them," von Reichbauer said.

Everyone agreed on the other Republican appointee, Skip Rowley, McKenna said.

McKenna's attempt to remove Dennis failed by a vote of 8-5.

Von Reichbauer, Hague, Larry Phillips, Carolyn Edmonds, Dow Constantine, Larry Gossett, Dwight Pelz and Julia Patterson voted against the amendment.

McKenna, Irons, Bob Ferguson, Kathy Lambert and Steve Hammond were in favor of replacing Dennis with Derham.

The other committee members are Joann Francis, the other Democratic appointee, a Seattle attorney and former chief administrative officer for Sound Transit and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Justice, and Skip Rowley, chairman of Rowley Properties and a lifetime resident of King County.

Von Reichbauer appointed Rowley.

When the candidates for the committee were presented at a November council meeting, Irons said he was "totally shocked."

The Republican caucus had met several times before the council meeting and twice that day on the issue. But von Reichbauer and Hague had stopped attending the meetings a week before the vote, Irons said.

According to him, von Reichbauer and Hague said they were "busy" and couldn't attend.

To say there were "hurt feelings" is an "understatement," Irons said.

"Mr. von Reichbauer takes care of Mr. von Reichbauer," he added.

"This is asking someone to perform surgery on themselves," von Reichbauer said of the process.

Von Reichbauer has said he isn't concerned about the redistricting process affecting him. His district borders Pierce County to the south and Puget Sound to the west. If his district grows, it will be north and east.

Other council members, including Irons and McKenna, are in a dicier situation. "They could end up living in the same district," von Reichbauer said.

The districting committee is looking at county maps and Census information to draw the new council district boundaries. The committee appointed a chairman and a "districting master" has been hired.

It will hold several meetings, including some public hearings, until mid-January when it must present a map with new council boundaries.

Districting committees are formed every 10 years to look at the areas council members represent and decide if current Census information jives with how the lines are drawn. Typically, the process takes a year.

This districting committee has until January 15 to file a new district map. The council can't ignore or change the committee's conclusion.

The council will remain unchanged in 2005, and all the council members that choose to will run for re-election in November for the smaller council.

Two council members will not be part of the November race. McKenna leaves next month to become attorney general. Pelz plans to run for Seattle City Council.

The correction officer union in the county sponsored the general election ballot measure to shrink the council after the council cut several million dollars from the county jail to bring the county budget in line with revenue. Cuts were also made to other departments' budgets.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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