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Pierce County courthouse rumor about political interference with districting committee was a good one (except that it wasn’t true)

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on May 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
May 27, 2011 5:02 pm

Had I heard what Pierce County Council Chairman Roger Bush had done? Had I heard the chairman was concerned that Republican incumbents were being drawn out of their districts and wanted changes made? Had I heard that he summoned the appointed Districting Committee master to go over the proposed districts?

No, I hadn’t heard about that. If true, it would be a problem because while the Pierce County Charter doesn’t use the word “Independent,” it is sort of assumed that the committee that redraws county council districts should be insulated from the politicians.

The committee isn’t non-partisan so much as it is bipartisan. There are two Republicans and two Democrats who then appoint a chair. And since it takes three votes to approve a plan (and four votes to amend maps presented by the appointed master) cooperation is required.

I left a message for Bush and called committee Chairwoman Karen Seinfeld. She wasn’t aware of any meetings between master Steven Garrett and Bush. The committee has had three public hearings and has heard about some concerns with early maps. In each case the committee asked Garrett to find solutions, which he has.

For example, an early draft split Summit and Waller. It also placed Steilacoom, Ketron Island and Anderson Island in a district with Gig Harbor when local leaders thought it fit better with Lakewood and University Place.

While Seinfeld said she isn’t focused on “incumbent protection,” the committee would entertain concerns by elected council members about how new districts effect them. But the proper setting is a public hearing. That’s where Councilmember Dick Muri appeared to talk about the Steilacoom issue.

I reached Garrett Friday afternoon to ask him about the rumored meeting with Bush. He said he wondered why it had taken me so long to call since he too had heard the rumors.

Only one thing. They aren’t true. Garrett said he doesn’t think he has ever met Roger Bush and certainly didn’t spend hours meeting with him about districting plans.

“If such a request came my way, I would decline,” Garrett said. “I’d be uncomfortable with it.” Council members “have a stake in the result, as does the public. They’re welcome to come to the hearings.”

Garrett said he is “vaguely aware” of where current council members live. And he is trying to make more-minor changes to districts with incumbents who are allowed to run again. Those are the 1st (Dan Roach), the 2nd (Joyce McDonald), the 5th (Rick Talbert) and the 7th (Stan Flemming).

But in three districts with incumbents who are restricted from seeking reelection by county term limits “I pay zero attention to it,” Garrett said. Seinfeld notes that even if a new district does not include the house of a term-limited incumbent, that incumbent can continue to serve until their final term ends.

The primary requirement of the committee is to draw seven districts with roughly the same number of people – about 113,600 based on the 2010 Census. But Garrett said he also is trying to keep communities of interest together and draw districts that are as compact as possible. He described the process as like a Rubiks Cube because each change in one area influences another area.

The committee has five more public hearings scheduled. They are:

– 7:30 p.m. May 31, Graham Kapowsin High School Career Center, 22100 108th Ave. E., Graham.

– 7 p.m. June 2, Lakewood City Hall, 6000 Main St. S.W., Lakewood.

– 7 p.m. June 6, location to be determined.

– 7 p.m. June 8, Public Works Central Maintenance Facility, 4812 196th St. E, Spanaway.

– 7 p.m. June 16, Gig Harbor City Hall, 3510 Grandview St., Gig Harbor.

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