Is Whatcom County Council skirting Whatcom County Charter by retaining seats?

In Local Government by Ashley Butenschoen

Have you seen these signs and wondered what this is all about? 
Does the Whatcom County Council represent you?  


Some history:

In July of 2015 the Whatcom County Council passed an ordinance that would put what became known as “Proposition 9” or “5 Districts” on the November ballot.

Proponents of the 5 District plan assured us they would be “Fair and Equal”.

There was some very astute opposition to the 5 District plan that the County Council sent to the voters last year. ( See the write up on the Fourth Corner page.)  Local author and land use consultant, Jack Petree,writing in the liberal/progressive leaning newspaper Cascadia Weekly, highlighted several of the issues.

The two most relevant at this point are:

  • The transition plan in the ordinance passed by the County Council was flawed and would lead to a situation where new districts would not have representation for up to 44 months.
  • According to the rules in the Whatcom County Charter it is questionable whether all the current Whatcom County Councilmembers(going in to the 2015 election ) would automatically lose their seats once redistricting was done  because they would no longer be living within the district they were elected for.

As noted in the Fourth Corner, local political operative Lisa McShane, who eventually sat on the Redistricting Committee, said that the above arguments were not an issue because they would just nominate Council Members for each new district.  “We know how to fill an open seat: we did that when Sam Crawford resigned. If we need to we can to that again”  she says.

        Jump forward to summer 2016:                                         

  • Proposition 9 was passed by the voters
  • The redistricting committee completed their work in a timely fashion
  • The Whatcom County Auditor has sent out notice that elections for three of the new council districts will occur in 2017

But wait!  The Whatcom County Council has not taken any action on the issue that they are not living in the districts the people of Whatcom County voted them into office for.  They have not nominated Council members for the new districts.  They have done nothing.

Is this the “Fair and Equal” plan that folks voted for?

While some discussion exists about Council Members holding their seats for their year, any reasonable person would agree because no County Council member will have been elected to the district he or she serves, all seven council members should be up for election next year; four as regularly scheduled and three to fill out the remaining two years in council districts not currently represented by a council member elected to the district.

Read a more  in depth analysis of this argument.

Auditor releases statement:
The Whatcom County Auditor seems to be moving forward on the issue and has announced elections for 2017.  However, she has not addressed the issue of Council members living outside their district.  Read her announcement here. 

Chart showing make up of current County Council

 What’s the big deal?
This is a big issue because at present the Whatcom County Council is about to rule yea or nay on the 2016 Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan.  This is the overall planning document for the entire County that will effect land use for years to come.

Should the current Council be making this decision when there is question on whether they legally are Council members?