Task of creating a map that will define the five County Council districts is being sent back to county staff with an April 28 deadline for approval in mind
With the candidate filing period just over a month away, members of the Clark County Council are still working to approve a new voting district map.
“The auditor is probably having conniptions,’’ said Councilor Gary Medvigy during a public hearing Wednesday. “There is a lot of candidates out there that need this process put behind them.’’
The councilors met Wednesday to discuss whether or not they would approve a map created by county staff, referred to as Council Alternative 1. The council, still without a representative for District 5, eventually was deadlocked at 2-2 on the approval of the map as Councilors Gary Medvigy and Julie Olson voted in favor and County Chair Karen Dill Boweran and Councilor Temple Lentz voted against.
The redistricting process was initially in the hands of a five-member Clark County Redistricting Committee. The committee was challenged by the fact that Clark County voters approved an amendment to the Clark County Charter that created a new fifth district for elected county officers.
The redistricting committee was unable to agree on a single map for the new five districts by its deadline. The committee had three maps – one supported by two Democrats, one supported by two Republicans, and another created by the redistricting master in an effort to suggest compromise.
The County Council has met several times to consider how to move the process along. The councilors were expecting one map from the committee and instead were provided three. In January, the councilors reached an impasse and voted to send the redistricting back to the committee. However, by law, the committee was disbanded at the end of last year.
The process was also hindered by a lawsuit filed against the county by former redistricting committee member Janet Landesberg, whose complaint alleged violations of RCW 42.30, the Clark County Charter 6.6, and violation of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. Landesberg did not prevail in her lawsuit.
Recently, members of the council asked county staff to draw its own map with the intent of keeping the current councilors in the districts they presently reside. The result of that request was the Council Alternative 1 map the councilors were deadlocked on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s meeting was held in a hybrid format for the first time since council meetings were moved to a virtual format due to COVID restrictions. Medvigy was the only councilor who attended the meeting in person. The other councilors joined in the virtual format.
Area residents had the option of commenting on the Council Alternative 1 map and the redistricting process either in person, or in the virtual format, or by submitting their comments in writing prior to the meeting.
Three citizens made comments in person and each were opposed to approval of the Council Alternative 1 map.
“I appreciate the fact that Councilor Medvigy said the quiet part out loud,’’ said Rob Anderson, referring to the councilors’ comment at a previous meeting. “To openly, publicly state they wanted to redraw these maps with the goal of keeping councilors in their districts was amazingly, potentially corrupt.
“It clearly uses their office for personal gain, to be able to be reelected as an incumbent in the district in which they now sit,’’ Anderson added. “There is an ethical responsibility that you are not to use your office for personal gain. It’s obvious at minimum the spirit of the RCWs is not being honored in this approach.’’
Peter Harrison added, “this map that we are discussing today does not meet the requirements because there is a more compact and a more population equal alternative that was drafted that did not address putting councilors in their different districts. That is not the intent of redistricting. The intents are spelled out in the RCWs we just went over.’’
The final speaker in-person was Linda Nelson.
“It seems to me that any reasoning has followed on deaf ears in this county,’’ Nelson began. “To me, you have deemed yourself to be unfit to rule. Either this council is unwilling or unable to think outside the swamp agenda and neither is acceptable. Feathering your own nest seems to be your only concern and objective. Trying to wrangle around the law of redistricting proves it to me.’’
Other comments, made either in virtual format or in writing, asked the councilors to approve the map approved by voters in November. Councilor Lentz made a motion that the councilors recuse themselves from being involved in drawing a map with boundaries for the five county councilor districts. Her motion recommended the councilors ask county staff to draw a new map with no consideration for how it impacted the current councilors’ individual districts.
“Going through this process specifically asking GIS to review it would help provide another layer of accountability and transparency,’’ Lentz said. “What we’ve been hearing very loudly from the community is that frankly they don’t trust this council to draw or pick a map. I think that is very important for us to listen to.’’
The council voted 3-1 in favor of the Lentz motion, with Chair Bowerman the only vote against.
The council will return to discuss the redistricting issue in a meeting scheduled for April 19. The councilors are working under an April 28 deadline to approve a new map in order to give candidates time to make decisions prior to the May 16-20 filing period.