Pasco now will go to the state to try to hold district-based elections for city council candidates.
The council voted 5-2 Monday, with Councilmen Al Yenney and Tom Larsen opposed, to ask the state Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on whether the city can vote for council members by district, even in the general election.
County Auditor Matt Beaton told the city recently that state law requires votes to be held citywide in the general election, though primary elections can be conducted within the city’s five voting districts.
“Perhaps it’s not the auditor’s responsibility to seek a legal opinion,” said Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel.
The resolution also asks the state Legislature to consider changing the law to allow for district-based elections.
The council voted last month to set new voting districts, giving districts 1 and 2 Hispanic majorities at just over 50 percent each.
Councilman Saul Martinez hopes that having district elections will increase voter turnout.
“I’m really hoping that, if and when this goes through, the districts will become more involved to make sure we have the right people for the city,” he said.
But public opinion has been against the change, Yenney said, though he admitted that district-based elections would be less expensive for candidates.
“So far, it’s been unanimous,” he said. “The citizens who talked to me are not too enthusiastic about a district-based general election. The feeling is that, as councilmen, we are supposed to represent the whole city.”
The city is not expecting a change to go through in time for the 2015 council elections, City Manager Dave Zabell said, though it would be a possibility if the attorney general’s opinion came back fast enough.
Filing for the November election is next week. Mayor Matt Watkins, serving in an at-large position, along with Yenney in District 1 and Councilwoman Rebecca Francik in District 5, are up for re-election.
Also on Monday, the council:
• Approved a $7.15 million contract with Total Site Services of Richland to build the new Police Community Services building.
Architect Terence Thornhill of Pasco, who designed the building with David Hansen of Seattle, gave a presentation on the 38,000-square-foot steel-facade building. It will include a community meeting room just inside the public entrance, as well as larger locker and exercise rooms for police.
The building, which officials expect to break ground on next month and will take a year to complete, will be built near the existing police station at City Hall. Thornhill said construction will require the temporary closure of ball fields, but much of the play area will be able to reopen.
Total Site Services worked on a similar building at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, said Shannon Toranzo, the company’s general manager.
“We’re very excited to be doing this project,” she said. “I can tell you, a lot of thought went into the design.”
The name of the building is a reference to Pasco’s use of community-based policing, Zabell said.
“I think this carries that forward in a very visual way,” he said.
• Approved a public meeting for the council’s May 18 meeting that will start the formal annexation process for 688 acres west of Road 80.