One voice, one vote

SNOQUALMIE - Before the first house was constructed on Snoqualmie Ridge, before the first new resident arrived in a moving van, city leaders were thinking ahead to a time when they would have to expand the City Council to match the expected population surge.

In 1995, Snoqualmie's population was 1,546. By 2000 - after three years of frenzied construction on Snoqualmie Ridge - that number had more than doubled to 3,416.

The city keeps growing. The state Office of Financial Management estimates Snoqualmie's head count now equals 3,899, but city officials think it could be even more, as much as 4,200.

With the majority of growth happening in one area of the city, there's the possibility that if left unchanged, the method of electing council members could favor Ridge residents over those living in the historic part of the city, simply by the sheer bulk of the number of people living in the Ridge development.

And so in the coming months, the City Council will discuss expanding the body from five to seven members to mirror the population increase and whether future council members should be elected from wards.

Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher is spearheading the effort, which he believes will ensure the concept one voice, one vote.

"The main goal is equal representation under the law," he said.

State law calls on cities with populations of more than 5,000 to have at least a seven-member city council. For Snoqualmie, that day is fast approaching.

But cities aren't required to have a ward system for elections. Snoqualmie council members are elected at large, meaning everyone in the city gets to vote for every seat up for election.

With the ward, or district, system, residents from a particular area cast ballots for someone to represent that area on the council. Snoqualmie isn't alone in considering this method. A recently proposed initiative in Seattle would split its City Council into nine districts.

Former city councilman Tony Yanez said that idea was tossed around when he was on the council.

"We did a lot of talking about how would we ensure that the historic part of town would still be represented," he said.

Fletcher is packaging the ward system and seven-member council together, and he hopes to have them in place by the fall, so they can be reflected in next year's budget.

"I'm trying to keep them together right out of the gate. I think it's the best way to do it," he said.

Yanez said linking the two together makes sense.

"If you're going to have a change anyway, why not do the wards at the same time?" he said.

If the measures are approved this year, they would go into effect Jan. 1, 2003. City Attorney Pat Anderson explained that at the City Council's first meeting of the year council members would appoint a sixth member. Then those six would appoint a seventh.

Five council members would be elected from wards, while the remaining two would be voted on at large. For the two new council members, the terms would be staggered, with one serving two years and the other serving four.

Fletcher said five wards were originally considered for the city, but that has since been reduced to two - one ward for the Snoqualmie Ridge area, and another for the historic part of the city, including Falls Crossing.

Under his proposal, the Snoqualmie Ridge ward would elect three council members, while the historic area would elect two. That 3:2 ratio is the same as the number of residents living in the two areas.

Anderson said that would make representation on the council equitable throughout Snoqualmie.

"It has to have consensus as being a fair thing," he said of the ward system.

The ward system and council expansion will be introduced in committees before making their way before the full council. The proposals aren't new to council members, though. They were the topic of the City Council's monthly roundtable discussion in April.

Fletcher said he's asking for a public workshop to be held, where residents can learn more about expanding the City Council and going to a ward system.

"It's kind of an educational process to let citizens understand what we're trying to do," he said.

Yanez said he's happy an idea that came about while envisioning the city's future is close to fruition.

"It's going to allow all areas of town to be represented," he said. "We have an opportunity to be ahead of the growth ... We have a chance to do that."

You can reach Barry Rochford at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at barry.rochford

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