The recent months have seen debate over the composition of the Montgomery County Council, especially with regards to the disproportionately high amount of representatives from Takoma Park. Although the population of Takoma Park only makes up about 1.8 percent of the 1.04 million residents living in Montgomery County, a third of the members which make up the council reside there.
The County’s Charter Review, a group of 11 county citizens of diverse party affiliations, is considering restructuring the council for the first time in 27 years. Paul Bessel, a retired lawyer who chairs the commission, says, “A lot of people have said they’re very upset that the current structure allows so many people from the same community to be elected.”
Currently, the council features a total of nine members. Four at-large members are selected by the entire county, and five are elected to four-year terms by districts established every decade after the national census. Common criticisms are that Takoma Park representatives will often focus on the issues important to those who lived in urban areas around Washington D.C., ignoring the issues of those who live in less densely populated areas.
Those against the restructuring of the council argue that it is not the organization which has resulted in overrepresentation: that is, anyone can run and win. In fact, currently, the voting process ensures that every constituent votes for five members: their district representative and the four at-large members–a majority of the council.
Nevertheless, most residents are pushing for the council structure to change. The overwhelming 2 to 1 vote in favor of reducing the term limits is a clear sign of voters’ discontent with the current legislative body.
Criticism is very widespread, even amongst other politicians. Robin Ficker, a Republican running for county executive, pointed out that the council’s support for construction of the light-rail Purple Line demonstrated their preferences of Takoma Park residents. Meanwhile, the county did little to combat the heavy traffic along Interstate 270, which affects a larger part of the county.
This issue is as of now still under discussion within the County’s Charter Review. Propositions currently include reducing the number of at-large seats or eliminating them altogether; this would ensure that each district has a equal voter representation.
Regardless of the path ahead, any changes to the council structure would need to be approved by voters in a referendum, and would not take effect until the 2022 council elections. Meanwhile, voters will decide who best represents them in the 2018 council elections under the status quo 9-member system.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Michelle Li of Richard Montgomery High School