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Mercer Island merry-go-round - County redistricting options toss Island back and forth between Seattle and Eastside

By Wendy Giroux

Proposals to redraw the districts represented by King County Council members throw Mercer Island to the west side of Lake Washington and back again.

Island officials are hoping the Island lands aligned with Eastside cities, as it is now. A draft plan presented Saturday shows the Island as part of an Eastside district.

County lines must be redrawn to create nine districts because voters approved reducing the number of county council members from 13 to nine in November.

Four options were proposed. Two Republican proposals call for aligning Mercer Island with Kirkland and Bellevue, rather than the current district the Island shares with southern Bellevue, Newcastle and northern Renton. Two Democratic proposals shift Mercer Island to align with the west shores of the lake, the Central Area of Seattle and north to the View Ridge area.

At the Mercer Island City Council meeting last week, council members asked Mayor Alan Merkle to send a letter to the redistricting committee supporting either option A or option B, both of which would keep Mercer Island aligned with the Eastside.

``They very clearly do not want to be shown in a district that lies with part of Seattle,'' City Manager Rich Conrad said. ``Our interests and ties are with Eastside communities.''

Merkle's letter emphasized the same point.

``Although Mercer Island shares many interests and common goals with Seattle, it has historically considered itself primarily a suburban King County jurisdiction with ties to its suburban and Eastside neighbors,'' he wrote.

State law says each district must have as equal a population as possible -- which works out to about 193,000 residents. To the extent possible, district boundaries also are supposed to match lines of existing municipalities, election precincts and communities of similar interests.

Council members must live in the district they represent; all those who wish to remain on the council will have to run again this fall.

The redistricting committee appointed by the county council has four citizen members:

? Bellevue resident Steve Dennis, retired president of Quadrant Corp. who has served on boards of Seattle Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County

? Seattle resident Joann Francis, attorney and owner of Francis Law Office who has served as chief administrative officer of Sound Transit and as an official with the U.S. Small Business Administration

? Seattle resident Michael Mann, who served on the 2001 county districting committee and is currently deputy director of the Seattle Office of Policy and Management

? Sammamish resident Skip Rowley, CEO and chairman of Rowley Properties, who has worked in the property management business.

The committee's chair is Steve Ohlenkamp, a partner in The Communications Group who previously served as chief of staff to the King County Council and King County Executive Tim Hill. The districting master is John Schlosser, founder of Schlosser Geographic Systems Inc., who served as districting master for two prior King County redistricting processes.

Ohlenkamp said that most people agree Mercer Island belongs on the Eastside.

``I think both the Republicans and the Democrats put some issues out there for bargaining positions and for negotiations,'' he said.

King County Journal reporter Dean Radford contributed to this article.

On the Web:

To review the draft plans or to check out the current district map, visit the county's Web site at www.metrokc.gov/council/districting

Public meeting:

The redistricting committee held several meetings to take public comment; one more meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 15, in the King County Council chambers at the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Ave. It will be open to the public but public testimony will not be accepted. The committee is scheduled to adopt a final districting plan at that meeting.

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