State Delegate Defends Staggered Council Terms Bill for Montgomery County

After controversy, he says it’s not an attempt to skirt term limits


Published:

Del. Al Carr

Maryland General Assembly website

State Del. Al Carr (D-Kensington) said Friday his bill that would enable Montgomery County to stagger elections for County Council seats by two years would not affect term limits approved by voters in November.

Carr said some residents testified against his bill Thursday in Annapolis under the mistaken belief that it would affect term limits and possibly keep some members on the County Council even after they have served three consecutive four-year terms, the limit approved by voters in November.

“There’s people posting on Facebook and making blog posts saying this is a conspiracy to undermine term limits,” Carr said.

One local blogger published a passionate post Tuesday, writing that the bill would allow certain council members to possibly extend their tenure.

But Carr says that’s not true.

“It merely allows Montgomery County to decide itself whether it wants to create staggered terms,” Carr said.

If his bill were to pass the General Assembly, he said, it would then require a referendum question be put on the 2018 ballot that would have to be approved by a majority of Maryland and Montgomery County voters. If voters did approve of the change, the County Council would then have to propose a charter amendment, followed by another county referendum to approve it.

He said moving through the required steps means that the soonest staggered terms could be put in place in the county would be the 2024 election, but only if voters approve referendums in 2018 and 2020.

The bill itself notes that “some” council members would be elected during gubernatorial elections, while others would be elected during presidential elections. As it stands now, all nine council members are elected in gubernatorial years, when turnout is typically lower than in presidential elections. The county’s Board of Education uses staggered elections.

Carr said he put forth the bill after experience with the Town of Kensington’s system, which has a staggered system. Carr is a former town council member.

He said staggered council elections would allow for greater continuity on the council and ensure that a clean sweep of incumbents wouldn’t happen, as it did once before in 1962. Another benefit, he said, would be to take some positions off the ballot during a gubernatorial election, when local voters choose a number of elected officials including in races for governor, comptroller, state legislative offices, and at-large council and district council seats—among other posts such as judgeships and register of wills.

In the 2016 presidential election, county voters weighed in on 11 positions ranging from president to school board members. Meanwhile in the 2014 gubernatorial election, county voters elected 43 representatives.

Carr said moving the election of some council seats to the presidential year would also be more “inclusive” because turnout is higher and the electorate is more diverse.

It’s unclear, however, whether the delegate will find support for his measure. Council members voted 5-3 against supporting the plan and council member Nancy Floreen told MyMCmedia it would disrupt the council’s workflow. On Thursday, the county’s House delegation’s Economic Development Committee voted to hold the bill over one week. Carr said his House colleagues want more information about the council’s view of the bill.

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