Are You Represented?
Are You Represented on the County Council? The Charter Review Commission Wants to Know
By Ann Guthrie Hingston
The Montgomery County Charter Review Commission (CRC) is soliciting public comment on whether the size of the county’s legislative body, the County Council, is adequate for fair representation of county residents and whether at-large Council members are beneficial. Since 1990 the County Council has consisted of nine members – five elected from districts and four elected at-large.
Over the last 30 years, Montgomery County has grown considerably to 1.1 million residents with 70 percent living north of the beltway. Each of the five Council districts now contain some 200,000 residents. And each at-large Council member must represent the interests of all 1.1 million residents, significantly more constituents than contained in a Congressional district. Maryland’s Congressional districts have 750,000 residents.Montgomery County is one of last remaining large counties in the United States that still has at-large representation.
Most large counties have replaced at-large with district representation to provide more equitable representation to minorities. In our county, the under-represented minority (actually majority) are the up-county residents who have only two Council members who live in their area. Seven Council members live down county in a crescent shaped area that runs from Bethesda to Takoma Park where only 30 percent of residents live. Five Council members live in Silver Spring-Takoma Park.
After the 2020 census, the county will redraw Council districts. It is an ideal time to amend the charter in order to provide fair representation for all residents with nine compact districts and no at-large seats.
The first of five CRC listening sessions was held in Bethesda on January 26. Seven of the eight residents who spoke said they are either not represented or underrepresented on the Council. Commissioners asked for examples. Especially poignant were examples given by Kimblyn Persaud of Wheaton and Eva Guo of Clarksburg.
Kimblyn Persaud pointed to her personal experience seeking help for her Wheaton community six years ago. On behalf of the Wheaton Coalition she invited her District Council member, Nancy Navarro, to tour an unsightly area that was inundated with rodents that they wanted cleaned up. When Navarro expressed little interest, she invited at-large Council members and was told by George Leventhal, Hans Reimer and Nancy Floreen that they would first need permission from Council District member Navarro. CRC Commissioner Larry Lauer commented that he had heard similar accounts about the practice of at-large Council members seeking permission from the District Council member.
This experience moved Kimblyn (Kim) Persaud to chair the nonpartisan, grassroots citizens committee called Nine Districts for MoCo to collect signatures to put on the 2020 ballot referendum in order to amend the charter to establish nine Council districts with no at-large seats. The 9D ballot committee is independent from the process undertaken by the CRC. For more information go to ninedistrictsformoco.org
Eva Guo of Clarksburg said she had lived in the county for 19 years but had never met a Council member. She pointed out that the districts are too large with some 200,000 residents in each and how at-large Council members have too many residents to represent. The county budget is $5.8 billion and her community does not have a say on how the Council spends it. She concluded by saying that she was speaking on behalf of her community which wants fair representation and a voice in the county government.
The CRC encourages residents to speak at the following listening sessions, which are scheduled as follows:
Rockville: Wednesday, March 4, 2020, 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. Council Office Building, 3rd Floor Hearing Room, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville
Germantown: Monday, March 23, 2020, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Upcounty Regional Services Center, Conference Room A, 12900 Middlebrook Road, Germantown