City plans to redistrict voting wards

Published on Thu, Jan 31, 2008 by Tara Nelson

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City plans to redistrict voting wards

By Tara Nelson

With the resignation of Blaine City Council member Mike Myers, city officials will examine redistricting of Blaine’s voting wards however doing so will present challenges.

In their regular meeting Monday, Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said because of a state law, the city will have to act quickly if they wish to redistrict before 2009.

Tomsic said this is because redistricting cannot occur within 90 days of a general election and with the Washington state presidential primary election scheduled for August 19, any redistricing would have to be completed and finalized by May 21. That deadline is also misleading because the council must give a prior 45 day waiting period for citizens to appeal the decision.

To make matters more complicated, the council will have to suspend the appointment of Myers’ former seat in Ward 3 until the redistricting is complete as Washington state election law requires elected councilmembers to be able to serve out their terms in the districts they were voted to represent.

Myers was one of three representatives of ward 3, a district that encompasses most of Semiahmoo and south Blaine from Cedar Street to the city limits near Peace Portal Drive and Front Avenue.

“If you do the redistricting first, the council appointment is going to occur very close to that 90 day period,” he said. “So you will have to wait almost three months to appoint a new council member if you redistrict first. If you fill the vacancy first, you could probably get that done by the end of February or maybe March. But then if you begin the redistricting and adopt on March 24 and wait 45 days, that’s a little within a week of the 90 days before the August 19 election. If you miss, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room there.”

The move is in response to a petition filed by a group of Blaine residents who claimed councilmember John Liebert was not legally within the boundaries of the district he was running to represent in the last general election.

That group included Totally Chocolate owner Jeff Robinson and Blaine Airport Commission chair Doug Fenton who opposed Liebert’s unwaivering support for selling the city’s municipal airport for development.

Whatcom County Auditor Shirley Forslof, however, had determined that the issue was a matter of technicality and that Liebert would remain on the ballot since his Vista Terrace home was never placed in any voting district, even though it fell within the boundaries of East Blaine, a narrow strip of land incorporated in 1996.

John Liebert said Myers’ resignation presents a window of opportunity to redraw district lines to include his position as well as make needed adjustments to other wards.

Liebert said the current districting makes it possible to elect four representatives from Blaine’s Semiahmoo district, creating a disproportionate amount of influence on the city’s seven-member council. Additionally, he said state law requires voting districts to be as compact as possible. The current boundaries of ward 3 are separated by Drayton Harbor, he said.

Liebert has proposed an alternative that would shift Ward 2 to the west side of the harbor and move Ward 3 from central Blaine to south city limits.

“We’re running kind of a crooked line,” he said. “I’d like us to think about if everything on the other side of Drayton Harbor were one ward, and making everything in central Blaine from G Street to Dakota Creek. That way at least each area of town has equal representation.”

Council member Harry Robinson (Ward 2) agreed. “RCW says the districts should be as compact as possible and I think it would be more inline with the regulations if we made them geographical area,” Robinson said.

The council has scheduled a public hearing during their next regular meeting on February 11 to discuss the issue.

Council appoints Jeff Teichert to planning commission
Blaine City Council unanimously appointed former land-use attorney Jeff Teichert to the city’s planning commission, Monday.

Teichert, who calls himself a “conservationist” with regard to land-use decisions was a former candidate against incumbent judge Mary K. Becker in the 2006 race for a seat on the Washington State Court of Appeals and the owner of a business law firm in Bellingham.

The council interviewed four other people during their regular work session Monday. Candidates were asked about their feelings on the best use of the airport property and their general opinions on growth and development. Candidates included Elle Tracy, Paul Aguirre and Chuck Green. Dennis Olason who was the only candidate to file before the deadline, renounced his candidacy at a prior meeting after council members voted to extend the deadline to have more candidates to choose from.

Bill would designate Peace Arch as official monument for peace
U.S./Canada Peace Anniversary Association president Christina Alexander asked for council members’ support in seeking to designate the Peace Arch monument as the official monument of peace for Washington state. House Bill 3094 is sponsored by state representatives Kelli Linville and Doug Ericksen and would promote recognition as well as increase eligibility for state and federal funding for maintenance and improvements.

“There will be some great things that can happen and to promote a monument that deserves that recognition,” she said. “Once it is an official symbol, it can bring great things to the community.”

Equalization storage
tank design wins award

Blaine’s recently installed equalization storage tank on Marine Drive was awarded the Silver Award for sustainability in design from the American Council of Engineering Companies. The tank was designed primarily by Jeff Lykken, a lead designer with Tetratech, formerly KCM design, and is part of a series of improvements to Blaine’s wharf district. Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the award is “the first of many” recognitions he expects the city to receive for the project.

T-Mobile contract postponed

City council also voted to postpone a decision to enter into a lease agreement with the cellular telephone service provider T-Mobile after some council members questioned how little the company was willing to pay to rent city property for a new tower.

City manager Gary Tomsic said T-Mobile company officials had expressed interest in leasing a 13 by 35-square foot piece of property to build a cell tower near the city’s water tank on Semiahmoo. Council member Jason Overstreet said he consulted a family member who works in the industry who thought the price T-Mobile had offered – between $500 and $800 per month – was too low.“We shouldn’t sell ourselves short,” he said. “Based on his professional opinion, the amount we should be getting is substantially more.”

Overstreet said he didn’t have an exact price in mind, but gave an estimate of about $1,000 at least. He also suggested that the city should require the company to construct the pole of such a design that it would be able to carry up to three carriers at a time, include language to require subleases to sublet through the city and allow the city to retain the right to allow new carriers.

The council will revisit the issue in their February 11 meeting.