CouncilmemberLiebert lives in wrong ward

Published on Thu, Sep 20, 2007 by ack Kintner

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Councilmember Liebert lives in wrong ward

By Jack Kintner

Whatcom County auditor Shirley Forslof dropped a bombshell on two-term council member John Liebert’s re-election campaign last week by telling him that he may be ineligible to run because his residence is not in the ward he’s running to represent.

For the last eight years he’s represented the first ward and is running unopposed for re-election, but he actually lives in the second ward as defined by maps on the city’s website that were supposedly based on the Blaine municipal code.

However, Forslof has also called that into question, determining that the wards in the large eight blocks by three-mile area annexed to the city in 1996 that includes Liebert’s residence were never codified, or legally defined in the city code, after 1994. “We have a candidate who may or may not live in the area he represents. The larger question is, what is the area he represents?”

Washington state law requires that a candidate be a regularly registered voter in the geographical area he or she seeks to represent at the time of filing. Liebert’s been registered in the first ward since moving to his present house nearly 20 years ago, and said that when he first filed to run in 1999 that both then Blaine city clerk Shirley Thorsteinson and the county auditor told him he was in the first ward.
However, in a ward map that was until recently on the city of Blaine website, the boundaries of Liebert’s lot are clearly shown to be in the second ward. Even Liebert himself admitted that he was too far south, once he’d been notified by the auditor’s office of the discrepancy. “I paced it off and got the distance at about 60 feet,” he said. “I knew that people living [south] of me were in ward two, but I didn’t think I was, and neither Thorsteinson or the auditor said anything until now.” Liebert said that he asked to be grandfathered into ward one but was refused.

“John does live outside the ward one boundaries as shown on the maps we now have, but when we went to the municipal code we found that the area where John lives was never properly codified. We depend on the cities to tell us what they’ve officially chosen for their ward boundaries so we can chose precincts,” Forslof said.

The wards were last defined in the municipal code in 1994 when the city’s eastern boundary ran along the east side of Lincoln Park to H Street. The first ward is described in the city code (1.20.020) as “All of the area within the existing East and West city limits of Blaine city lying South of the International Border to the middle of G Street.

That map originated with Blaine’s Department of Public Works. A source who asked that his name not be used said that “I guess we just drew a line along that G Street projection like it says in the code.”

City manager Gary Tomsic concurred, adding, “We have researched our records to determine if any [official] action was taken [in defining wards in the newly annexed area]. We have yet to find anything.”

Department of public works head Steve Banham said “The problem with just drawing the line is that it cuts through dozens of lots and houses. You want your ward boundaries to be along major thoroughfares, not through back yards. So some change is necessary, and if we could just do that then John’s house would end up in ward one.”
Following a meeting Tuesday with city officials, Forslof determined that since the correct designation of wards is the city’s responsibility, that Liebert’s name will remain on the general election ballot to be mailed out October 17. “We can only act on the information Blaine has given us,” she said, “so they need to let us know when they make changes, and so far they haven’t.”

Tomsic said that he wasn’t sure how the city council will address the issue, but “the [council] needs to fix the problem as soon after the election as possible. Given the confusion, it seemed logical [to us] to allow the election to move forward with John on the ballot and deal with any legal challenges that might occur after the election.”