Charter commission seeks input on council size, structure

Charter commission seeks input on council size, structure

Elrich recommended changes in September

| Published:
county seal resized

The county’s Charter Review Commission will get public feedback on the size and structure of the Montgomery County Council — months after County Executive Marc Elrich suggested several significant changes.

In September, Elrich — who served three terms as a council member before he was elected as county executive — said the county should consider creating nine individual council districts and two or four at-large seats.

The council currently is made up of nine members — five representing districts and four at-large. Elrich said adding additional members would decrease the workload for individual council members and foster a sense of community by lowering the ratio of constituents to representatives.

“The county has grown so much that right now, each district council member represents around 200,000 people,” Elrich said in September. “So if you had nine district seats, those districts are smaller, they’re more accessible, and they’re easier to represent, because each council member is focusing on fewer people.”

Several council members were taken aback when they learned of Elrich’s suggestion. But commission Chairman George Margolies said the idea had come up several times in the last few decades.

In 1986, the council expanded from seven to nine members after a lengthy commission review.

In 2006, the Charter Review Commission considered three separate proposals to change the council structure:

  • expand to 11 members with eight district and three at-large representatives
  • move to all-district representation
  • maintain nine seats with only one at-large member.

The upcoming series of “listening sessions” will address whether the current nine-member council adequately represents the county. “The [commission] wants to hear from citizens … if they feel that the current structure… is responsive to the needs of our growing county,” member Larry Lauer wrote in an email last week.

In December, commission member Nicole Thomas presented research comparing the ratio of council members to residents in Montgomery County with nearby areas. Among jurisdictions with district and at-large council seats, Montgomery County has the highest aggregate ratio of council members to constituents, she found.

The county has an aggregate ratio of one council member to 116,952 residents. Prince George’s County, the next highest, has a ratio of one council member to 82,664 residents.

Frederick County has the lowest ratio among the three counties and Washington, D.C., with one council member to every 36,521 residents.

The public input sessions are part of a broader review as the commission decides whether to recommend changes to the council structure. Council members would need to approve the recommendation before it went to a public vote.

The listening sessions will be held at the following times and locations:

  • Bethesda: Jan. 26, from 2:30 to 4 p.m.; Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, Conference Room West-A, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda
  • Burtonsville: Feb. 8, from 3:30 to 5 p.m.; Marilyn J. Praisner Branch Library, Medium Room #2, 14910 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville
  • Olney: Feb. 22, from 2:30 to 4 p.m.; Olney Community Library, Medium Room #2, 3500 Olney-Laytonsville Road, Olney
  • Rockville: March 4, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.; Council Office Building, 3rd Floor Hearing Room, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville
  • Germantown: March 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.; Upcounty Regional Services Center, Conference Room A, 12900 Middlebrook Road, Germantown

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