Oral Statement Made During the July 10th Meeting of the Montgomery County Council
By Sharon Cohen
The following oral statement was presented by Sharon Cohen at the July 10th meeting of the Montgomery County Council during which the issues of eliminating At-Large County Council seats and redrawing the districts to represent smaller, like-minded communities were discussed, along with two proposed Charter Amendments that would (1) eliminate the role of party central committees in the re-districting process and give Council members the exclusive right to pick their surrogates and, (2) change the nature of a unanimous County Council vote to raise property taxes in excess of the growth in CPI.
Good afternoon. I am Sharon Cohen, a county resident, and I serve on the board of the county’s Republican Central Committee, but I speak today on my own behalf.
Many here support the CRC’s minority views. We agree that now is the time for “smaller and more responsive districts.” Yes, eliminating the At-Large County Council seats and redrawing the 9 districts to represent contiguous, smaller and like-minded communities should be pursued. Voters do NOT want any one geographic area to have undue influence on the council. Today, almost 56% of the council’s voting power originates from Takoma Park and a nearby community. This situation should be prevented in the future.
In terms of the two proposed charter amendments, both should be opposed:
Eliminating the role of party central committees in the redistricting process is wrong. Minority party rights should NOT be abrogated. Republicans – as the minority party – must have the right to vet our members on the Redistricting Commission. Further, going from the current guarantee of 4 vetted Republican Commission Members to ONLY 1 – one that is NOT vetted -- is an outrage. That is a loss of nearly 75% of our rights in this process.
The worst part, however, is giving the County Council members themselves the exclusive right to handpick their surrogates to serve on this body. That is a blank check. Council members could pick Commissioners that draw district lines, which represent their interests rather than the voters. This amendment entirely eliminates the current check and balance that county parties now provide on the council in the selection of commission members and for that reason the amendment should be opposed.
Switching to the tax amendment, it is based on a false analysis! The scenario presented -- a council vacancy during an economic crisis -- assumes that a property tax increase is the only action the council could take but for the lack of 9 members to achieve a unanimous vote. Rather than a tax increase, those 8 remaining council members CAN still act; they could cut or delay spending. If this situation is a real concern, then set up a reserve fund in a lock box for such a crisis.
Lastly, what does “all current” and voting unanimously mean? If all current means all elected members (regardless of the number), then if one or more are absent a unanimous vote is not achievable. If “all current” means ONLY those capable or available to vote, then that is NOT a unanimous vote of those actually elected. This charter amendment is either a solution in search of a problem, OR is a way of subverting the unanimous intent of the current charter language that VOTERS passed into law not that long ago.