A lawsuit against the city of Yakima concerning Latino voters is weighing on the minds of the Pasco City Council as voting districts are redrawn for the 2015 elections.
Pasco has redrawn its city council boundaries every two years for more than a decade because of imbalance created by its explosive growth. Like Yakima, Pasco has a large Latino population.
A federal judge ruled that Yakima’s council districts are not “equally open to participation” for Latino voters, in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Certainly Yakima is behind the 8 ball, and it feels like Pasco might be in the shadow of the 8 ball, so to speak,” Mayor Matt Watkins said at Monday’s council meeting.
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But Leland Kerr, the city’s attorney, has a “gut feeling” that Pasco is in good shape with the issue, he said.
Pasco Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel said a final resolution in the Yakima case and more data will be needed to determine whether Pasco needs to take action to avoid a lawsuit.
That still leaves the issue of bringing the districts within state population guidelines that none of the five districts can be more than 10 percent larger than another. Councilman Saul Martinez has a growing northwest Pasco district with 14,272 residents, compared to 12,376 residents in Councilman Mike Garrison’s south central Pasco district.
Strebel presented three alternate district maps the council could consider, but did not know if any council members would be displaced because of any of the proposals. He did say council members would be eligible to serve until the end of their terms even if their district changes.
“With the three maps, I don’t see how it’s possible to not displace somebody down the road,” Councilman Bob Hoffmann said.
The discussion grew heated when Councilman Tom Larsen accused city staff of gerrymandering council districts in the past.
“Gerrymandering in the encyclopedia is a rough-looking duck, and we’ve had that in our city for a while,” he said.
Watkins asked Larsen to prove his allegations, but Larsen said it was staff’s responsibility to disprove them. Larsen and Watkins are the council’s two members who are voted on at large.
“This is the city council approving districts,” Watkins said. “Staff has provided some recommendations, but the buck stops here.”
The council could also consider whether to change the city’s policy of having primary elections only for residents of the district and then having the entire city vote for the council in the general election. But, as with marijuana, Strebel said there is a disparity between state and federal law that would need to be researched.
The council should have a public hearing on proposed districts and vote on the revisions by March to allow time for candidates who are registering for the 2015 council elections, Strebel said. Registration for candidates starts May 11.
Also Monday, the council:
• Heard a presentation on Tri-Cities branding from representatives of TRIDEC, the regional chamber of commerce and Visit Tri-Cities. Watkins said the city would commit to having a council or staff member take part in the program.
The program is a good one, Councilman Al Yenney said, but he had a problem with its logo, which is intended to resemble a “fist bump.”
“It brings back memories of some bad things I’ve seen in the world,” he said. “It brings me back to Hitler. That kind of thing brings chills to me.”
• Discussed renaming part of Commercial Avenue to Venture Road. Rick White, the city’s community and economic development director, said Commercial Avenue is actually two roads that converge together south of Pasco-Kahlotus Highway. The change is intended to eliminate potential confusion for emergency responders.