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Former Judge Karen Seinfeld scheduled to chair – or perhaps referee – Pierce County Districting Committee tonight as contentious process of redrawing council district lines continues; few inquire about doing the job of Districting Master

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on April 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
April 13, 2011 10:01 am

Retired Judge Karen G. Seinfeld should be getting off an airplane this afternoon with just enough time to make it to her new volunteer job as chairwoman – or perhaps referee- of the Pierce County Districting Committee.

The panel is to meet at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierce County Annex, 2401 S. 35th St., Tacoma.

Its main task at hand is the selection of a Districting Master, who will study the 2010 Census statistics and recommend new lines that rebalance the county’s seven council districts to roughly equal population.

That job could prove difficult.

Only a few inquiries about the Districting Master position  have been made since the county issued a request for proposals to do the work on March 31. And according to Doug Vanscoy, a deputy prosecuting attorney assigned to the committee, the panel has only until April 21 to make its pick.

That’s 30 days after the County Council appointed four men – two Republicans and two Democrats – to the committee.

If the Districting Committee hasn’t chosen a Districting Master by that date, the County Council will get the job of picking someone, according to the provisions of the County Charter, Vanscoy said last week.

But the charter language is vague, and some committee members believe they’ll get extra time if they don’t get applications from parties qualified to do the work.

The meeting tonight promises to be interesting. Seinfeld said she could be there, but she asked for a later start time because she’s flying into Sea-Tac in the afternoon.

And it was clear last week the four members – Republicans Deryl McCarty and Mike Abernathy and Democrats Ken Blair and Sam Ross – needed a chair, if not a referee.

They were polite and all, but they sparred over how and when Robert’s Rules of Order should be applied to their meetings and there were barbed exchanges over candidates for the chairmanship.

When Ross suggested at the beginning of the meeting that the group not immediately adopt Robert’s Rules, McCarty quipped: “Then, we’re just going to sit around and cry at each other? Where’s the structure?”

Ross didn’t want to begin operating right away under Robert’s, the accepted handbook for parliamentary procedure, because it requires election of a temporary chairperson until a permanent one is selected.

He wanted the two Democrats and two Republicans to operate by consensus until a fifth person was appointed by the group to be its chairperson.

When the four agreed to hold off on Robert’s for a time, McCarty said: “Rule by committee. Isn’t this great?”

Blair then suggested Tacoma Community College President Pamela Transue and Seinfeld for the chairmanship. Seinfeld was nonpartisan as a Pierce County Superior Court judge and on the state Court of Appeals bench, Blair said.

Her late husband, Denny Seinfeld, was one of the freeholders who helped write the county’s Home Rule Charter in 1980, and the couple were both Democrats. Karen Seinfeld was the first legal counsel to the County Council.

Abernathy wanted former Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee as the committee’s chair. McCarty suggested former Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney. Lee and Bunney are Republicans.

Abernathy¬† extolled Lee’s reputation as even-handed and fair-minded and wanted to know whether Ross and Blair objected to Lee as a possible chair only because of the “R” attached to his name.

Blair characterized Lee and Bunney as “very strong Republicans.”

“We’re looking for a nonpartisan independent who can be a peacemaker between us,” Ross said.

Abernathy allowed as how he’d entertain Seinfeld as the chairmanship candidate, but he wanted her to attend a meeting and talk to the group first. She wasn’t there because Blair hadn’t been able to reach her, though he said he knew she was available to do the job.

Lee wasn’t in the room, either. Abernathy said Lee was willing to attend, but he’d suggested it might be better if Lee weren’t there for any discussion.

Ultimately, the four men decided it would be OK to get Seinfeld on the phone for a brief interview. They recessed while the call was made. When they returned, they gathered around Blair’s small cell – as if standing around a campfire sans marshmallows on sticks – for a conversation with the judge.

Abernathy’s first question to Seinfeld was, “Do you know Mr. Lee?” He was making the point that he believes everyone who knows Lee sees him as even-handed and nonpolitical.

Seinfeld asked several questions about the committee and its work, saying she didn’t know much about it. Former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, a Democrat, approached her about being the chairperson of the group, she said.

She was subsequently elected on the 3-1 vote, with Democrats Ross and Blair and Republican McCarty agreeing to her selection. McCarty was then elected vice chair.

The Districting Committee plans to hold one meeting in each of the seven councilmanic districts while the Districting Master does his or her work.

The process of redrawing councilmanic lines is traditionally fraught with contentious debate and complaints that the lines are being drawn to favor one political party or the other.

This year, the process has barely begun, but it’s been true to form.

County Councilmen Tim Farrell and Rick Talbert, the only Democrats among the body’s seven members, cried foul three weeks ago when their Republican colleagues ran the show in appointing the Districting Committee.

Farrell and Talbert said they felt like they’d been overrun and hadn’t been given a voice in picking the Democrats who’d serve on the committee. And they were angry the council appointed Ross as one of the Districting Committee’s Democrats, even though Ross said his busy schedule would make it almost impossible for him to serve. He’d withdrawn his name from consideration.

Since then, he’s made a point of attending the Districting Committee meetings, and he’s thanked the other members for arranging to hold meetings at a time when he could be there.

Here’s a copy of the county’s advertisement for the job. It was issued March 31:


PIERCE COUNTY
DISTRICTING COMMITTEE
SEEKING DISTRICTING MASTER

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the Pierce County Districting Committee is seeking applicants interested in being selected as a Districting Master.

The Districting Master should be qualified by education, training, and experience to draw a redistricting plan consistent with 2010 Census data. The final plan will consist of detailed maps, legal descriptions of the seven county council districts, and be compatible with ESRI, ARC – GIS Program. Specifics of the responsibilities and scope of work for the Districting Master, as directed by the Pierce County Charter, are as follows:

Section 4.40 — District Boundaries
The boundaries of each district shall correspond as nearly as practicable with the boundaries of election precincts and shall be drawn to produce districts with compact and contiguous territory, composed of geographic units and natural communities, which are approximately equal in population.

Section 4.50 — Districting Committee
Within 60 days after the 1980, and each succeeding Federal census is published, a 5 member districting committee shall be appointed. The Council shall appoint four persons to the Committee, two from each major political party, from a list of five submitted by the party’s central committee, the four to appoint the fifth, who shall serve as the Chair.

Members of the Districting Committee shall serve without salary, but shall be compensated for expenses. The Districting Committee shall, within 30 days of its appointment, meet and appoint a Districting Master who shall be qualified by education, training, and experience to draw a redistricting plan.

If a Districting Committee is unable to agree upon the appointment of a Districting Master within 30 days, the Council shall appoint a Districting master within
30 days thereafter.

Section 4.60 — Districting Plan
Within two months after appointment, the Districting Master shall draw a districting plan for the County which shall be submitted to the Committee for adoption. The Districting Committee shall adopt the districting plan within 15 days as submitted, or as amended by four affirmative votes of the committee members. If the districting plan is neither adopted nor modified within 15 days after submission, the plan shall be deemed adopted. The plan, upon adoption, shall be filed with the filing officer by the Districting Committee. The plan shall become effective upon filing.

If interested you may submit your application to the Pierce County Districting Committee, Attn: Jenifer Schultz, 930 Tacoma Avenue South, Room 1046, Tacoma, WA 98402-2176.

Applications should include projected costs and are to be received as soon as possible. Section 4.50 states the Districting Committee shall appoint a Districting Master within 30 days.

If you have questions regarding the position please contact Susan Long, Legal Counsel, Pierce County Council, (253) 798-6068, slong@co.pierce.wa.us, or Jenifer Schultz, Committee Clerk at (253) 798-6696, jschult@co.pierce.wa.us.

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