Voters reject proposal to merge King County government and Metro on November 6, 1979.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 10/05/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2704

On November 6, 1979, voters resoundingly reject a King County proposal to absorb the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle and its water quality and transit services. They vote nearly three to one to preserve Metro as an independent agency.

Metro was created by public vote in 1958 to address regional sewage and water quality problems. Its authority was expanded in 1972 to establish a countywide bus system. Although King County was represented on Metro's governing Council, many County officials resented its political independence and lack of direct electoral accountability.

King County Council Member (and future governor) Mike Lowry (1939-2017) led the merger forces, while Metro's defenders included Kirkland Mayor Doris Cooper, Mercer Island Mayor Beth Bland, Seattle City Council Member Jeanette Williams (1914-2008), and long-time Metro Transit Chair Aubrey Davis. Relying on public approval of Metro's performance, they responded, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Metro's public standing declined over the next decade due to minor scandals and controversial projects such as the West Point sewage treatment plant and downtown Seattle transit tunnel. In September 1990, Federal District Judge William Dwyer found that Metro's federated city-county Council violated the U.S. Constitution's "one man, one vote" requirement for representative proportionality (some Metro officials represented many fewer people than others) and ordered officials to address the problem.

After much debate and rejection of the first proposed remedy, voters amended the King County Charter on November 3, 1992, to absorb Metro's functions while expanding the King County Council from nine to 13 members. Metro ceased to exist as an independent agency on January 1, 1994.


Sources:

Walt Crowley, Routes: A Brief History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993); Bob Lane, Better Than Promised: An Informal History of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: King County Department of Metropolitan Services, 1995).


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