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Spokane Judge upholds Spokane City Council District Maps

The Spokane City Council voted to back "map 2" at its October 24 meeting.
Spokane City Council
The Spokane City Council voted to back "map 2," created by Zack Zappone, at its October 24 meeting.

A Spokane County judge has ruled that Spokane’s city council District map will remain in place.

Spokane City Councilman Zack Zappone, who created the map, was accused in a lawsuit of gerrymandering to increase his and other Democrats’ electoral odds.

In his ruling today, Judge Tony Hazel said the map follows the state’s standard for districting: neighborhoods are kept together and geographic boundaries are followed. His ruling was focused on a third standard – whether population data were used to disadvantage a racial group or political party.

“And if I'm asking myself, was population data used to draw the map, which is really the question before the court, I don't find evidence of that,” Hazel said. “Even though I acknowledge, and it’s absolutely understood that (Zappone) understood the political ramifications, but that's a different question than using that data to draw the map. It conformed with the criteria.”

Hazel is referring to texts Zappone exchanged with his legislative assistant and friends that surfaced through a subpoena. They discussed the map’s potential impact on Zappone and other candidates’ electoral chances.

Spokane’s redistricting process is laid out in its city charter. Maps are created, and reworked by a board of community volunteers. Zappone was a non-voting member of that board.

Last summer the community volunteer board created several city council district maps, all attempting to accommodate the results of the 2020 census. Zappone also created a map, which was similar to a proposal created by a community board member. His map was one of several that was released to the public for review, but was not the map the volunteer board recommended to the city council.

The city council, in an October meeting, voted to override the community board’s recommendation and adopt Zappone’s map instead. His map, removed the West Hills neighborhood from his district and added Brownes Addition, which made it approximately 1.5% more blue. That increase is small, but could make a difference in future city council races. In 2021, Zappone won the race for his seat by less than 300 votes.

His map also changed Districts 1, the Northeast District, and District 2, the South East District. It lumped much of downtown in with District 1. It also reunited the East Central neighborhood by moving it entirely into District 2.

Hazel said his ruling doesn’t mean the city’s off the hook when it comes to its redistricting process. He said the charter, which governs how the city redistricts, is flawed and difficult to understand.

“It is not spelled out clearly,” he said. “So, I find as a matter of law as precedent going forward, that city council should not be submitting maps.”

Hazel acknowledged his decision will likely be appealed, and encouraged Mark Lamb, the attorney representing the four voters who sued over the recent redistricting, to do so.

During his arguments, Lamb referred heavily to Zappone’s text messages, saying Zappone’s exchanges with political allies, and other city council members, showed that he was manipulating the process for personal gain.

One specific exchange between Zappone and his legislative assistant Jeff Gunn, came up several times in the hearing. In the text exchange, Zappone and Gunn strategized on how to promote his map. Gunn suggested Zappone tell the public he wanted to give each District a piece of downtown, keep neighborhoods together or “some BS like that.”

Attorney’s for the city argued that Zappone’s text messages were not relevant, and some occurred after the city council’s vote to override the map. He also noted that Zappone recused himself from voting on the maps and consulted the city attorney at every step of the process.

Hazel’s ruling means that these city council maps will be used in this year’s election. The first day to file to run for office is May 15.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.