Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of public participation in politics. It's at the foundation of how government is supposed to work. And it does work that way, at the local level at least. I saw elected leaders change their minds based on what a citizen said many times as a newspaper reporter covering small-town and rural-county councils. It's a beautiful thing to witness.
Tonight's hearing of the Whatcom County Districting Committee is not one of those opportunities for public participation. Not really. It will be a charade.
People who support Fair and Equal Whatcom—the group behind the successful proposal on last November's ballot to change the number of county districts from three to five—have put out the call to get like-minded people to show up at tonight's hearing (at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., if you must know). They will ask members of the Districting Committee to back the “voter intent” to have the five-district map appear as it was described to voters last fall. On the other hand, conservative groups who successfully changed our county council voting system from countywide to district-only in the last election are lining up their people to argue that the progressives followed an illegal process getting five districts on the ballot in the first place, and in the second place “voter intent” isn't as set in stone as Democrats would have you believe.
Now if you were going to the hearing just to observe, you don't need to anymore. I just summarized the whole thing for you. I would only add, the Districting Committee members sat there and made a pretense of listening, and walked out of council chambers with the same opinion they walked in with.
As I mentioned in my report in Northwest Citizen on last week's meeting, it is highly unlikely—nigh impossible—for a citizen to walk up to the microphone tonight and say anything persuasive enough to change the minds of any of the four voting members of the committee—Demcorats Mike Estes and Lisa McShane, and Republicans Mark Nelson and Brett Bonner. (Full disclosure: My boss at my job is Dan McShane, Lisa McShane's husband.)
Tonight's hearing is required by state law, but no one is required to participate. Let's stand down from the arms race or the spitting contest—“Let's see which side has the longest line of supporters waiting to speak”—and save everyone time and money (those staff people working the meeting are getting paid, after all) and just stay home.
Public process is really about the best thing about our deeply flawed system. But in Whatcom County, the system is so dysfunctional that even this best practice has been reduced to ruins.
Don't speak at tonight's hearing. It's a sham.