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Voters reject Gresham council districts

Gresham voters on Nov. 6 rejected a measure to elect each city councilor by one of six districts instead of city-wide.

Measure 26-141 needed 60 percent approval to pass because as a charter amendment it needed more than a simple majority. But only approximately 43 percent of voters, or 11,756, approved it, compared to the 57 percent of voters who cast 15,695 votes against it.

The measure called for the city to be divided into six districts that would be represented by a councilor who lived within each districts' boundaries. Voters would only vote for candidates running for the district in which the voter lived.

The mayor's position would have remain at-large, meaning that anyone who lives in the city could run for the seat and all residents could vote for it.

Former City Councilor Richard Strathern spearheaded the initiative that placed the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot after Gresham's citizen charter review committee failed to recommend it as one of five proposed charter amendments that Gresham residents approved in May.

Strathern argued that citizens would be better represented by councilors who focused only on one district in which they lived. Districting also would ensure that all areas of the city have a representative on the council instead councilors only being from just a few parts of the city. Strathern also contended that districting would make it easier and less expensive for citizens to run for city council, thereby encouraging more candidates to run for the unpaid volunteer positions.

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis opposed it on the grounds that it would create division among the city, arguing that each city councilor works for the common good of the entire city, not just one slice of it. He also pointed out that Gresham's city council was briefly represented by districts in the 1980s, but voters returned to the previous at-large system when some districts struggled to get anyone to run.

“I think both sides made a case and the public believes that what they have is working,” Bemis said of Tuesday night's election results.

The issue divided the City Council, with five councilors against it and two for it. Those two, John Kilian and Paul Warr-King, worked with districting supporters to gather signatures for the initiative to appear on the ballot.

Warr-King, who ran for a third council term on the same ballot, lost and thinks his alignment with the districting effort could be a factor.

Strathern also ran for a council seat on the same ballot. He finished second with 17 percent of the vote in a four-way race against Council President Karylinn Echols, who is leading in her race for another term.

In a facebook posting, Strathern congratulated Echols for her win and thanked residents who voted for districting."I would like to thank the 10,300+ Gresham Citizens (sic) who voted for district elections and who will prove a strong base of voters for future campaigns to return district elections," he wrote. "We hope to be working with the Rockwood Community (sic) directly fielding a strong slate of candidates for the upcoming elections for both City Council and Mayor. Being the largest populated neighborhood in Gresham and a strong Latino presence it ought to be a strong possibility."

He also added that Austin, Texas, approved creating council districts... after seven attempts.




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