(The Center Square) – The Spokane Redistricting Board has spent months redrawing city council maps to equalize populations between three voting districts, but one member is questioning the ethics of allowing the last-minute addition of a fourth map by Councilor Zack Zappone.
“This just doesn’t feel right,” said Jennifer Thomas, a member of the board.
She said Zappone’s map was added to the Aug. 31 meeting agenda just hours before the board convened. That map bumps up the percentage of registered Democratic voters in District 3, which Zappone represents.
Thomas protested adding the map, but it was ultimately approved by the board, which is chaired by Richard Friedlander and includes member Heather Beebe-Stevens.
The task of the board had been to rebalance voter populations. Census data showed that District 1 was underrepresented in voter numbers and District 2 was overrepresented. District 3 needed only to be tweaked, said Thomas.
“The city charter says that the council president and one other councilor are to serve as advisory members of the redistricting board, so why is Councilor Zappone allowed to actively participate in the board’s work?” she asked. “Is it fair to give him the ability to redraw the map for his own district, especially when it favors his political party?”
The original District 3 map drawn by the board has a 3.8% spread between parties, with 51.7% Democrats and 47.9% Republicans. Under Zappone’s proposal, the spread widens to 5.3%, with 52.5% Democrats and 47.2% Republicans.
“District 3 is already a swing district with two Democrat council members,” explained Thomas. “Councilor Zappone’s map makes it almost impossible for an Independent or Conservative to win a council seat for the next 10 years.”
All four maps are available for review at https://my.spokanecity.org/bcc/boards/city-council-districting board/. An online survey about the maps is available for public comment at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SpokaneRedistricting. Feedback can also be given to Hannahlee Allers at [email protected]
The survey closes at 11:59 pm on Sunday, Oct. 2. The deadline for email feedback is the same.
The public is given an additional opportunity to weigh in on the maps at a town hall meeting scheduled by the board for 5:30 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the city council chambers.
Zappone said he has always been interested in mapping, so he decided to take on the challenge of redrawing the District 3 boundary. He tried different ways to meet state criteria, such as keeping the district compact and geographically contiguous.
He brought six possible maps to the late August meeting but said only one of his proposals was chosen for consideration. Zappone believes his map does the best job of meeting the mandate to preserve existing communities of related and mutual interest.
He said any other city council member could have presented maps for consideration, as could any community member.
“I welcome anybody to go design a map that achieves the goals,” he said.
Friedlander represents District 3, which includes Northwest Spokane, on the redistricting board. Beebe-Stevens represents District 2, which encompasses properties south of the Spokane River. Thomas is the representative for District 1, which incorporates Northeast Spokane.
Thomas twice attempted to schedule a special meeting of the board to discuss the controversy, whether Zappone’s direct involvement meets state criteria and provisions in the city charter. She has failed to gain traction on that request.
She said RCW 29A.76.010, which outlines how the redistricting process is intended to work, clearly states that population data to redefine map boundaries may not be used to favor any racial group or political party.
In addition, she said the city charter does not appear to support Zappone’s participation in the mapping process. Section 59 of the charter says that no member of mapping board shall hold or campaign for any city council position for two years after the effective date of the districting plan.
“If Councilor Zappone is not serving in an advisory capacity, as outlined in the charter, then he becomes an active member of the board that should be subjected to that requirement,” she said.
The typical role of an advisory board member, said Thomas, is to provide support, not act or make binding decisions on behalf of the organization. She said the city council has to approve the final version of each map by mid-November so Zappone’s involvement creates a conflict of interest.
Zappone said the city councilors have been added to the board to be part of the process. He doesn’t believe his actions are out of line or in violation of redistricting rules.
The Census Bureau estimates Spokane’s population at 228,989. The city, the second largest in Washington, is divided into three legislative districts, each served by two councilors under the leadership of the at-large council president, which is currently Breean Beggs. Elected to serve District 1 is Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart. The councilors for District 2 are Betsy Wilkerson and Lori Kinnear. Zappone and Karen Stratton represent District 3.
Next year, Beggs’ terms ends, as does that of Kinnear and Stratton.