News

New lines not likely to impact Enumclaw

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

King County voters spoke clearly when they went to the polls Nov. 2, offering their belief that county government has grown top-heavy and needs to be pared down.

In passing Charter Amendment 1, voters mandated that the 13-member Metropolitan King County Council be whittled to nine representatives. In the wake of that vote, the question facing Enumclaw and the surrounding area is simple: what does the coming change mean in terms of local representation?

Not much, according to Steve Hammond, who represents Enumclaw and a big chunk of southern King County on the council.

Once new district boundaries are drawn, Hammond said, he should be safe in representing the southern portion of the county. Further, he doesn't anticipate a new district will pit him against a sitting council member.

Hammond has long been supportive of the move to shrink the council, citing the financial savings that would accompany such a reduction and the belief that nine people can run the county as well as 13.

Beyond that, he correctly assumed the public would agree, although he misjudged the level of support. "I figured it would pass by a larger margin than it did," he said during a phone interview a couple of days after the election.

By reducing the size of the council, Hammond said, county taxpayers could save up to $4 million annually, though most estimates have been lower. Four council members, plus members of their staffs, take home $1.3 million in salary alone, he said. Other savings come from such things as telephone charges and utilities, he added.

The process of drawing new district boundaries has already been talked about, but cannot officially start until the Nov. 2 election results are certified on Nov. 17. The first step will be to form a five-member Districting Committee. The seven Democrats on the current council will pick two members, as will the six Republicans. The four committee members will choose a fifth to join their ranks, with that fifth member serving as chair.

From the get-go, Hammond said, it could be a highly-charged political process.

The committee will use existing data from the U.S. Census Bureau to transform the current 13 districts into nine. According to a news release issued by the council, efforts will be made to follow the borders of cities and towns, voting precincts and natural boundaries. When the redistricting is complete, each of the nine areas will have a population of about 200,000.

Hammond anticipates some political battles will be fought, as two current council members could wind up in the same district after the new lines are drawn. "It's going to make for some strained relationships," he said, particularly if two members of the same party find themselves in the same district.

One thing that has eased the tension is current Councilman Rob McKenna is leaving county government for state office, having been elected attorney general Nov. 2. Also, Councilman Dwight Pelz has announced his plan to seek a seat on the Seattle City Council. That leaves 11 council members, rather than 13, to be impacted by redistricting.

Hammond sees no change coming for Enumclaw or the surrounding area. Because he lives in rural Enumclaw, Hammond is in the southern portion of his current district. His nearest council peers are David Irons, who lives in Sammamish, Pete von Reichbauer of Federal Way and Julia Patterson of SeaTac.

It's unlikely, Hammond said, that changing boundaries would place another council member in his district.

Dominating talk of redistricting is the speed at which things must be accomplished. "We have until Jan. 15 to get it done," Hammond said, "and government usually does not move at that speed."

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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