Charter Commission Recommends No Change in County Council

The Montgomery County Charter Review Commission will not recommend a change in the constitution of the County Council, despite months of consideration that the current set up is less than ideal.

In a Facebook message posted Wednesday, the commission’s chairman Paul Bessel said the panel’s recommendation is to keep the current council structure of four at-large members and five district members.

In an interview in July, Bessel seemed confident commission members would decide on some alternative.

“I can’t think of a single person that says let’s leave it the way it is,” he said then.

However, the commission voted 7-4 to recommend leaving the current structure as is. The commission’s report — the draft is 91 pages — will be published on the commission’s website.

The County Council will receive the commission report by May 1, and the council will decide which recommendations, if any, to place on the Nov. 6 ballot.

One of the reasons for making a change is that the county’s population of about 1 million is too large for at-large councilmembers to campaign and serve.

“However, if it were true, why is it that about 30 people have filed with the Board of Elections to run for at-large positions while fewer have filed to run for district council seats,” according to a draft report from the panel.

In an interview Wednesday, Bessel said the draft report could change before it is delivered to the council but the main points have been settled.

The draft also says an increase in the size of the council would result in greater expenses for taxpayers with added staff and office space.

Bessel had been in favor in making some kind of change.

“I was leaning toward changing it,” he said. “[But] I didn’t think that was the best thing to do.”

He said there were more benefits to the current set up.

The commission’s document includes a minority report from four of the panel’s members.

The minority report cites accountability of at-large members, and the fact that core population areas tend to dominate primary election results, leaving much of the county without local representation.

“Without proper representation of upcounty and East County communities, many citizens, possibly a plurality of citizens, could correctly feel underserved by the current council structure,” the minority report reads.

The minority report calls for a change in the makeup of the council, yet it doesn’t recommend exactly how that change would appear.

The commission is also recommending a less partisan redistricting commission, opening up its membership to all county voters, including voters who have declined to affiliate with any political party. According to a draft report of the Charter Review Commission says 22 percent of the county belong to neither the Democrats nor the Republicans.

The redistricting commission, which redraws the district boundaries after each federal census, currently has nine members. The charter panel suggests increasing the number to 11.

If the council adopts the recommendation and the adoption is affirmed by county voters, the Redistricting Commission will no longer be named by the Central Committees of the major political parties, it will be expanded from nine to 11 members with no more than four registered in any single party, and districts will have to be compact and not take into account the addresses of incumbents, Bessel said.

The commission also recommended a change to a charter provision that requires nine votes to exceed the so-called charter limit on tax increases. Taxes cannot exceed the rate of inflation unless all nine council members agree to an increase.

The proposed change says such tax increases needed to be “unanimous” in place of the nine-vote requirement.

“This will allow the council to act when there might be a vacancy, and if the Council numbers are increased in the future the unanimity requirement will remain rather than the smaller number of 9,” Bessel wrote.

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Douglas Tallman

About Douglas Tallman

Reporter with 35 years experience throughout Maryland. Reach me at dtallman@mymcmedia.org or via Twitter at @MCM-Doug

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