Committee advances plan to cut Pierce County Council size
STEVE MAYNARD; Staff writer
Pierce County Council members sparred Monday over a proposal to reduce the number of council members to five from seven, with Councilman Rick Talbert calling the move “an abuse of our power.”
Talbert and Tim Farrell, the council’s two Democrats, said the next Charter Review Commission in 2015 should decide whether a proposal to cut the size of the council should be forwarded to voters.
Talbert said the change “demands and warrants a lengthy conversation,” which the voter-elected, once-a-decade commission would provide. He called the proposal a “radical” change suggested on a “whim.”
Council Chairman Roger Bush responded that the proposal – which he made a week ago and said could save more than $500,000 a year – wasn’t radical.
“It is not a whim, and it certainly is not an abuse,” Bush said.
The council’s Rules and Operations Committee voted 2-1 to move the proposal to a full council vote Aug. 9.
Putting a charter amendment on the ballot requires five “yes” votes on the seven-member council. If approved, the amendment would be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Councilmen Bush and Dick Muri voted to advance the proposal; Councilwoman Joyce McDonald voted “no.” All are Republicans.
McDonald said she wants to save $5 million over the next 10 years, but also wants more time to determine whether residents would be fully represented with larger districts and fewer council members.
“This is not an abuse,” McDonald said. Instead, for the council to turn over its responsibility to the Charter Review Commission is “an abuse,” she said.
Asked after the meeting about McDonald’s comment that the council would be undercutting its own duties by not acting, Talbert said, “It’s an asinine response.”
“The insinuation is if we don’t do this, we’re not doing our jobs,” he said. “That can’t be further from the truth. There’s no emergency here.”
The proposal also would cut the size of the Charter Review Commission to 15 members from 21. That commission size is based on having three members from each district.
Farrell said people already feel a lack of representation in county government. Reducing the number of voices is not wise, he said.
But Councilman Stan Flemming, a University Place Republican, said cutting back the size of the council would achieve what his constituents say they want.
That message is: “We need to live within our budget. We need to decrease the size of government,” he said.
Bush’s proposal – made a week after a controversial redistricting map was adopted – would require redrawing boundaries again in 2012.
Some Republicans said the map the Pierce County Districting Committee adopted July 12 heavily favored Democrats by spreading Tacoma’s population so the city would have a majority or near-majority in three districts.
It also drew Flemming out of District 7 with three years left on his term.
Bush’s proposal resolves that issue by abolishing districts 6 and 7 and having Flemming represent District 4 starting in 2013 for the last two years of his term. Flemming lives in what is now District 4.
The map aimed to redraw seven districts with 113,600 residents each. With five districts, each would contain about 159,000 residents.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/polibuzz