CRC Minority Calls for Changes to At-Large Council Seats
On June 12, the Montgomery County Council will receive the Charter Review Commission's (CRC) report on proposed changes to redistricting policies and on the minority's recommendation that, "now is the time to consider changing the makeup of the County Council by having more, smaller and more responsive council districts."
On the afternoon of July 10th, a County Council public hearing on the CRC's report is scheduled. Please come to the public hearing and speak out in support of the CRC's Minority Report recommendation! The Council needs to hear there is strong public support for the reduction or elimination of at-large council seats before their July 17 Work Session scheduled to consider CRC recommendations. The Council will take final action on any Charter amendments to be placed on the ballot in November at their July 24th session.
"Minority Report: Council Structure and Current Population
Charter Sections 102 & 103
During 2017, Charter Review Commission (CRC) members began to independently hear concerns raised by the public regarding four of nine members of the County Council who are elected at-large. Concerns centered on the high number of at-large members residing in Takoma Park. While the over-representation from one area was the most commonly cited issue, the CRC held a public hearing on October 18, 2017 to glean further insights into other areas of concern.
Based on public testimony presented at the hearing, it appears that concerns stem from a number of issues beyond over representation of Takoma Park. The CRC's discussion of the hearing testimony determined that the most substantive concern raised focused on how at-large members can be more directly accountable to residents and communities.
In order to gain further insight on this issue, CRC member Jonelle Williams met with several Montgomery County residents and civic organizations. Some of the residents and civic organizations with whom he met echoed that the primary concern with at-large seats is the accountability of at-large members or lack thereof, as well as overrepresentation in general.
The heart of the accountability concern is the following question: to whom are the Council members, particularly at-large members, accountable given that they cannot be linked to direct representation of any group of citizens or neighborhoods? Many independent, non-partisan groups (such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and FairVote, see Attachments 1 &2) have examined the issue of at-large representation vs. single member districts, and have determined that single member districts present the more representative electoral process. The question then is, are the concerns of the citizens of Montgomery County adequately represented by the current Council structure?
The current council configuration of 5 districts and 4 at-large seats has been in place since 1990. The county population at that time was 757,027. (census figures). Each of the five Councilmanic districts represented approximately 151,400 citizens. In the 28 years since, the county has grown to a population of approximately 1.1 million residents (13.2% increase over the 1990 population). Each of the five County Council districts now averages approximately 220,000 residents. Each at-large member, meanwhile, represents the needs of more than one million residents. An increase of nearly 70,000 residents per council district and the geographic diversity of Montgomery County as a whole call into question whether the current Council structure continues to be adequate, or does the Charter need to be amended to more effectively represent this growth.
In addition, primary election results tend to group candidates from the dominant political party in core population areas of the county, leaving much of the county without local representation. Large parts of the county, outside of the most densely populated areas, have no local representation on the Council (as shown in Attachment 3). The result is under-representation of Up County and East County communities, where concerns are different from Down County communities including safety issues, transportation problems, housing and economic and employment issues, among others. These needs call for attention from representatives closer to those communities. Without proper representation of Up County and East County communities, many citizens, perhaps a plurality of citizens, could correctly feel underserved by the current Council structure.
Conclusion and Recommendation:
The Charter Review Commission (CRC) serves an important function for the citizens of Montgomery County. By listening to concerns regarding the functionality of the county government, discussing those concerns in a non-partisan setting, and making recommendations for systemic changes, the CRC makes the Charter a living, viable document that increase the responsiveness of county government to the changing needs of county citizens. Upon examination of the current County Council structure (Charter Sections 102 & 103), the changing demographics and growth in the county and the public testimony provided, we believe now is the time to consider changing the makeup of the County Council by having more, smaller and more responsive council districts. The growth of the county’s population outside the “beltway” area demands attention and local representation. We strongly recommend the current County Council, or the next CRC make reviewing, modifying, and rejuvenating the structure of the County Council a priority."
[Note: live links to the attachments are not included at this time. Apologies for any inconvenience. The links will be added after the report is presented to the County Council this week.]
Attachment 1: NAACP Legal Defense Fund At-Large Frequently Asked Questions
Attachment 2: FairVote Overview of At-Large and Single Member Districts
Attachment 3: Current residence of County Council Members
Submitted for CRC Members: