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Charter bans redrawing of district boundaries by Council or Initiative

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 the San Juan County Council discussed council members Rich Peterson's and Marc Forlenza's proposal to amend the county's Charter through the council ordinance/voter approval process. There was talk by other council members that the process should be done through a citizens initiative.

Apparently the council did not realize district boundaries cannot be redrawn through a citizens initiative. Peterson and Forlenza were not aware the Charter doesn't allow the council to redraw the boundaries either.

The relevant section of the code was missing from the Charter.

Gaylord said an early compilation of charter amendments prepared by our office mistakenly left out one sentence added to Section 4.34, but that was discovered some time ago, it has been corrected, and when the charter is compiled by the code reviser for the public, it will be shown.

That section of the code - which is not in the final adopted Charter posted on the county's website or in the hard copy used by Peterson - also does not allow the council to redraw the boundaries.

Peterson and Forlenza's proposal would divide San Juan Island and Orcas Island into two districts, each having their own council member. Currently the county is divided into three districts: San Juan Island; Orcas Island/Waldron and Lopez/Shaw islands. The proposal if adopted would create five districts.

The second part of their proposal would change the voting procedure from county-wide to district-wide.

Without redrawing the boundaries it is still possible to add two council members as long as the voting continued to be county-wide. They could be required to be from the Orcas/Waldron and San Juan Island districts respectively. The reason the voting could not be by district is because the residency districts vary widely in population. Under the rationale used in the amended county Charter voting would have to be county-wide.

There may be a way for the council to redraw boundaries, Gaylord said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. It could be a two step process - first pass an amendment to remove that prohibition and then pass a second amendment redrawing the district boundaries.  

The relevant sections of the Charter:

ARTICLE 5 - THE PUBLIC INTEREST section 6.21 (3): Redistricting of the Legislative Residency districts shall not be subject to the initiative process. The process for the initiative for Charter Changes:

Section 9.31 - Charter Amendment - Procedures

(1) Any proposed Charter amendment shall be filed and registered with the County Auditor and submitted to the voters at the next November general election occurring at least ninety (90) days after registration of the proposed amendment with the County Auditor.

(2) In submitting any amendment of the Charter to the voters, any alternate article or proposition may be presented for the choice of the voters and may be voted on separately without prejudice to others. An amendment which embraces a single or interrelated subject may be submitted as a single proposition even though it is composed of changes to one or more Articles.

(3) If a proposed amendment is approved by a majority of the voters voting on the issues, it shall be effective ten (10) days after the results of the election are certified, unless a later date is specified in the petition or ordinance proposing the amendment.

(4) Any implementing ordinance required by any Charter amendment shall be enacted by the County Council within one hundred and eighty (180) days after the amendment is effective, unless the amendment provides otherwise.

Section 9.34 - Amendments by the County Council

(1) The County Council may propose amendments to the Charter by enacting an ordinance to submit a proposed amendment to the voters at the next November general election occurring at least ninety (90) days after enactment.

(2) The County Council by unanimous vote of the entire County Council may effect amendments to the language of the Charter where the passage of time has rendered language moot or obsolete. Such changes shall be made by ordinance, and have a public hearing.

Section 9.33 - Amendments by the Public

The public may propose amendments to the Charter by:

(a) Registering with the County Auditor an initiative petition bearing the signatures of registered voters of the County equal in number to at least fifteen (15) percent of the number of votes cast in the County in the last gubernatorial election.

(b) Signatures shall be registered not more than one hundred twenty (120) days following filing of the petition with the County Auditor, who shall submit the amendments to the voters.

(i) The one hundred and twenty (120) day period shall begin upon receipt of official notification to petitioner(s) by the Prosecuting Attorney's Office either by certified mail or messenger.

(ii) If the last day for collecting signatures falls on a weekend or legal holiday, then the one hundred and twenty (120) day period shall extend to the end of the next business day

Section 6.21 - Initiative - Limitations

(1) No initiative shall contain more than one (1) issue.

(2) No initiative proposal requiring the expenditure of additional funds for an existing activity or of any funds for a new activity or purpose shall be filed unless provisions are specifically made therein for new or additional sources of revenue which may thereby be required.

(3) Redistricting of the County Council Residency districts shall not be subject to the initiative process.

Section 6.30 - Mini-Initiative

(1) Any ordinance or amendment to an existing ordinance may be proposed to the County Council by registering with the County Auditor initiative petitions bearing the signatures of qualified voters equal in number to at least three (3) per cent of the number of votes cast in the County in the last gubernatorial election.

(2) Upon verifying the sufficiency of the signatures, the County Auditor shall transmit the initiative petition to the County Council, which shall hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance and enact or reject the ordinance within sixty (60) days.

Section 6.31 - Mini-Initiative - Failed Initiative

If the proponents of an initiative fail to obtain the required number of signatures in the designated period but have sufficient signatures to qualify the proposal as a mini initiative, the proposal, at the request of the proponents, shall be treated as a mini initiative.

THE SECTION OMITTED which will be added by the code revisor:

In a phone call Wednesday, March 27, county Prosecutor Randy Gaylord pointed out section 4.34. Most of Section 4.34 was stricken and this sentence was added: "The boundaries of residency districts may be altered by amendment to this Charter, but such boundaries shall not be changed by the Legislative Body or initiative."

An article spelling out the details of Peterson's and Forlenza's proposed ordinance is posted here.

The corrected Charter was posted on the county website at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, March 28.

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