A campaign aims to change the election of Kent City Council members from at-large positions to districts, where each member would represent a specific area where they live.
The Kent For Districts campaign co-directors, Mónica Mendoza-Castrejón, a law student and longtime civic activist and Cliff Cawthon, a housing advocate, say that the current system of at-large only voting gives too much influence to some neighborhoods and diminishes participation in others, according to a Feb. 1 press release.
“I believe in Kent For Districts because this city deserves equitable and full representation,” Mendoza-Castrejón said. “As someone who grew up and lives in Kent, I have seen this city change but stay the same in many ways. Changing Kent’s municipal election system to districts would ensure that all of Kent’s neighborhoods will be represented, be more democratic and move our city forward in a positive and impactful way that will benefit generations to come.”
In order to be considered by voters on the November 2024 general election ballot, the campaign must gather 10,572 signatures by the middle of summer. The campaign is optimistic about their signature-gathering ability and has already received the endorsement of City Councilmembers Marli Larimer and John Boyd.
“I support district elections for Kent because we are the sixth largest city in the state, the sixth most diverse city in the nation, and we have distinctly different subareas between East Hill, West Hill and the Valley,” Larimer said. “Only in the most recent years have we had representation from the West Hill and the Valley on council and district elections will codify this pattern of representation ensuring these neighborhoods remain represented for years to come. Districting also promotes a strong connection and accountability between residents and their elected representatives and contributes to the creation of more equitable city policy.”
Boyd, who is in his first year on council, agreed.
“I support districts because it is beneficial for council members, but also the people who would live in these districts that council members would run in,” Boyd said. “They can better get to know who their council members are.”
The campaign anticipates broad support from dozens of elected leaders and community groups now that they have publicly launched, according to the press release.
Hira Singh Bhullar, a former city council candidate and tech worker has already thrown his full support behind this effort.
“I like to see representation from each corner of Kent in the city hall,” Bhullar said.
Mendoza-Castrejón summed up the campaign objective.
“The time is overdue, Kent’s residents in every neighborhood deserve a seat at the table,” she said.
The campaign will host an event at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 29 at Rafiki Restaurant and Lounge, 226 First Ave. S.
For more information about the issue, visit kentfordistricts.com.
Candidates favored districts
Five of the six people, including Larimer and Boyd, who ran for three council positions on the November 2023 ballot, favored a change to districts.
The question about changing from at-large positions to districts came up at a Sept. 7, 2023 Kent Chamber of Commerce candidate forum.
Zandria Michaud, who won reelection to the council, voiced the only opposition to the switch.
“I see pros and cons for both sides,” Michaud said. “It’d be great to have only 30,000 people in my district, but on council there are seven of us. …If I was only concerned with Springwood Park (neighborhood where she lives) and not downtown, it’d be an issue. Right now, we are concerned about all.”
Michaud said it could be a challenge to find enough people to run for office if they have to live in specific districts.
“It’s hard to get people involved to be on council,” she said. “I like the way it is now to advocate for the entire city.”