Pasco to stay with 5 council districts

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 26, 2013 

A majority of Pasco City Council members informally agreed Monday to keep the city's current political system of five council districts and two at-large members, rather than switch to three larger districts and one at-large member.

There was no vote taken during the workshop discussion. Councilmen Mike Garrison, Bob Hoffmann, Tom Larsen and Saul Martinez said they will support the five-district system when formal action is taken next Monday.

Garrison, Hoffmann and Larsen are up for re-election this year, and a switch to three districts might have pitted Larsen -- who serves at large -- against another sitting council member to retain a seat in one of the new districts.

Hoffmann said he thought it was best to stick with five districts for now, and reconsider three districts again in a couple of years.

Martinez said he thought having five districts offered citizens more opportunity to run for seats on the council and provided a wider diversity of representation.

But Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik, who favored the three-district option, said the zigs and zags in the way boundaries are drawn in this year's five-district option don't appear to meet the criteria of keeping districts compact and contiguous.

"I think this map very clearly looks like gerrymandering to keep members in their districts," Francik said.

Francik is not up for election this year. She said she supported the three-district option in 2011 -- when it would have meant she might have lost her seat -- because larger districts would have less variance in population and wouldn't have to be redrawn every two years.

Pasco has had to frequently redraw its council districts because of the population explosion in the city during the past decade, and districts can have no more than a 10-percent difference in population.

Currently, district population levels range from a high of 13,934 people in District 4 to a low of 11,464 people in District 3. If the city keeps five districts, each should have a population of 12,181 to 13,399 to maintain no more than 10 percent difference. A three-district system would set population thresholds of 20,835 to 22,918.

New boundaries need to be drawn before May 13, when candidates for city council can file to be on the ballot in this year's election.

Councilman Al Yenney said he thinks three districts are the best option, but that the council needs to tackle redistricting earlier in the year to give potential candidates ample time to get used to the new boundaries before election filing week in May.

"We should address it earlier than we have in the past," he said.

Also Monday, the council further refined a proposed policy for responding to public records requests that would create fast and slow tracks depending on the volume and complexity of the records sought.

Council members discussed adding a third "hybrid" track and making it clear in the proposed resolution that some records -- such as copies of building permits or public safety records -- can be obtained without a formal records request at all.

Residents also would be able to look at a "weight sheet" showing how criteria are applied to put their requests on a particular response track and have the opportunity to revise their requests to speed up the process.

Consensus among council members was that the new policy moves the city in the right direction.

"I think when it all comes out in the wash, we're going to get a product that will work," Yenney said.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @mduplertch

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