Sunnyside to consider expanding council districts

Councilman backs move to five or six seats

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Francisco Guerrero

— The City Council may expand to five or even six district seats.

The first step in the discussion is next Monday during a workshop meeting.

Councilman Francisco Guerrero said the current format of four district and three at-large seats needs to be examined.

“Having three council members live within four blocks of each other isn’t good,” he said. “I think it would be beneficial to have people form more districts to have wider representation.”

Guerrero said he has spoken with county officials and they are drawing up a city map showing potential outlines for additional council districts.

Guerrero said there is opposition to the idea.

“Some people just don’t want to have to worry about running again,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of consensus.”

Currently, the council consists of four district seats held by Theresa Hancock, Dean Broersma, Guerrero. District No. 3’s seat is vacant.

The council has three at-large members; Mayor Jim Restucci, Craig Hicks and Julia Hart.

Restucci said his focus now is filling the District No. 3 seat, which was vacated Jan. 2 by Spencer Martin.

“My priority right now is appointing a new member of council,” he said. “Council doesn’t function well with six members. You run the risk of a tie vote on a lot of things, which will kill it.”

If council members favor moving forward with adding district seats, then a public hearing would be required at a future meeting, Restucci said.

The workshop is 6:30 p.m. next Monday in the Law and Justice Center, 401 Homer St.

“At this point, it would be for next year’s election if we get the ball rolling,” Guerrero said “We don’t want to rush it, but at the end of the day it will hopefully move that direction.”

Restucci has misgivings about expanding beyond four districts, noting the difficulty the city had in finding applicants for District No. 3’s vacancy.

The city extended the application deadline. It expires at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Guerrero agrees with that issue, to a point.

“It could be a concern, but I don’t see it as a big concern,” he said. “There are people who are motivated and want to make some changes.”

Guerrero first raised the issue during a council meeting last September. At that time he brought up the idea of all seven seats going to districts.

Now he said he would be content with a move to five or six districts.

Council members at the time agreed to discuss the issue early this year after 2017 budget talks concluded.

Restucci was one of the council members who backed the move to four districts in 2008.

The city decided on four districts and three at-large seats in 2008 and the plan took effect with the 2009 elections.

The districting issue came up because of a college report claiming Sunnyside’s previous arrangement of seven at-large council seats was a hindrance to electing Hispanics.

The report, based on names in the Sunnyside phone book, got the federal Department of Justice’s attention.

Though districts require council members to live in particular areas of town, all voters get a say on each seat in the general election.

And Sunnyside is not the only Columbia Basin city looking at expanding district seats.

On Friday, a federal judge granted the city of Pasco’s proposal to have six district and one at-large seat.

Pasco proposed the move in response to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last summer.



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