Approximately two-years ago this month, the Whatcom County Council took action in an attempt to consolidate its power permanently. They placed on the ballot a measure calling for the reorganization of Whatcom County’s system of representation by Council District, from the original three-Districts to the newly formed five-Districts. The new five-District designs required by the Council’s measure, shameless gerrymandering, and a complete disregard for citizen based government has meant 80% of the County’s voters have not had a representative living in their District on the County Council, as required by the County Charter, for more than a year. 40% of the County’s voters will not have that representation for another two-plus years.
For better or worse a measure touted as providing for “FAIR AND EQUAL” Council representation for all the people of Whatcom County was passed by voters in the November 2015 election. The County Charter requires the passage of propositions like the “FAIR AND EQUAL” measure take effect shortly after an election is certified.
So how has “FAIR AND EQUAL” worked out for you?
In May, following the election, as required by the Whatcom County Charter (essentially the County’s Constitution) new County Council Districts were adopted and, by requirement of the County Charter, put into effect.
As the result of the election and the subsequent drawing of new District boundaries, “FAIR AND EQUAL” as designed by the sitting members of the Whatcom County Council HAS DISENFRANCHISED most of Whatcom County’s voters!
Between the November election and the May 2016 designation of boundaries for the newly designated County Council Districts, no one quite knew which Council member represented which citizen base but, in fairness, the County Charter does allow for the delay in implementation that took place so long as the delay is discussed in the proposition passed by voters.
May of 2016, everything changed as new District boundaries were drawn and adopted. The result of the redistricting and the gerrymandering of the boundaries accompanying the process has meant that as of May, 2016:
- Bellingham’s South District (District 1) has been unrepresented on the Whatcom County Council by a Council member living in the District as required by the Whatcom County Charter;
- Whatcom County Council District 3 (Kendall, Sudden Valley, Lake Samish, Chuckanut, etc.) has been unrepresented on the Whatcom County Council by a Council member living in the District as required by the Whatcom County Charter;
- Whatcom County Council District 4 (Lynden, North County, etc.) has been unrepresented on the Whatcom County Council by a Council member living in the District as required by the Whatcom County Charter. No one actually living in the District will be elected to serve the District until 2019;
- Whatcom County Council District 5 (Blaine, Ferndale, Lummi, etc.) has been unrepresented on the Whatcom County Council by a Council member living in the District as required by the Whatcom County Charter. No one actually living in the District will be elected to serve the District until 2019;
- No one will be elected to serve in Whatcom County’s new “At Large Position B” until 2019. The incumbent was previously elected to serve portions of North and South Bellingham and much of Southern Whatcom County.
The Whatcom County Charter requires that County Council members live in the district they represent. Provision is made in the Charter to allow Council members moved out of their existing districts when new boundaries are drawn to retain their seats until the next election. That provision does not apply to the new Districting plan because no one was moved out of their existing District by a redrawing of District boundaries; existing Districts were eliminated and an entirely new Districting system was installed; every District is a brand-new District, the old Districts no longer existed, no representative was removed from their District by an adjustment of the boundaries.
The injustice inflicted on the citizens of Whatcom County came as the result of two improper actions:
- District boundaries could have easily and lawfully been drawn in ways that assured Council representatives representing a District, lived in the District. Gerrymandered Districts served the political ends of this exercise so much better.
- The Whatcom County Auditor and the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s office could have done their jobs once the District boundaries were drawn and have required the County Charter be followed; Council seats not occupied by a Council member living in the District they serve should have been declared vacant and filled, as provided for by the County Charter, at the next general election.
An elective office shall become vacant on the death, resignation, recall of the officer; a councilmember’s absence from three (3) consecutive regular meetings of the County Council, without being excused by the Council; any elected official’s absence from the County for thirty (30) days without being excused by the Council, or for other causes. The vacancy shall be filled by the Council as it deems appropriate.
Vacancies in elective office shall be filled at the next November general election, unless the vacancy occurs after the last day for filing declarations of candidacy, in which case the vacancy shall be filled at the next succeeding November general election. The person elected shall take office upon certification of the results of the election and shall serve the unexpired term of the vacated office. Until a successor has been elected and certified, a majority of the Council shall fill the vacancy by appointment. All persons appointed to fill vacancies shall meet the qualifications of Section 4.20. (Amended by referendum 1986; Amended by Ord. 2005-075 Exh. A; Amended by referendum 2005).
The election of County officers provided for in this Charter shall be held on odd-numbered years as provided by general law and the provisions of this Charter. The term of office of elected County officers shall commence on the second Monday of the next January immediately following the November general election. (Amended by Ord. 2005-075 Exh. A).
Perhaps more destructive of good government than the County Council’s self-serving actions has been the Whatcom County Auditor and the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s lack of attention to this violation of our Whatcom County Charter.
How’s “Fair and Equal” working out for you?