Montgomery County voters unseated a member of the school board yesterday and rejected three ballot questions that proposed far-reaching changes to county government.
With all precincts reporting, measures to eliminate at-large County Council seats, prevent the council from overriding a property tax cap and limit the county executive and council to three four-year terms all went down to defeat.
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In the schools contests, Stephen N. Abrams, a former two-time board member, defeated District 2 incumbent Walter Lange with slightly more than half the vote. In the at-large race, board President Sharon W. Cox defeated Silver Spring engineer Tommy Le with nearly three quarters of the vote. Valerie Ervin, an aide to County Council member George L. Leventhal, won the District 4 seat, beating Sheldon Fishman, an Internet specialist for a District law firm, with nearly two-thirds of the vote.
Voters retained four newly appointed Circuit Court judges for full 15-year terms. The judges, Marielsa A. Bernard, David A. Boynton, Dennis Michael McHugh and Katherine Savage -- who all received both Democratic and Republican nominations -- finished ahead of their lone challenger, Libertarian Daniel Patrick Connell.
The ballot issues, Questions A, B and C generated the most intense debate in Montgomery this fall. They asked voters to address property tax rates, term limits and the composition of the County Council. Had they passed, they would have brought the most significant changes to county government since 1970, when voters approved the creation of the office of county executive.
Question A would have prevented the council from overriding a property tax cap that restricts yearly increases to roughly the rate of inflation. Question B would have limited council members and the county executive to three four-year terms. Question C proposed to scrap the council's four at-large seats and create nine districts, each to serve about 110,000 residents.
A broad coalition of elected officials, community organizations, unions and business groups formed to campaign against all three questions. The Vote No Coalition spent more than $50,000 on mailers warning that the proposed changes could cripple county government's ability to pay for services and react to emergencies.
The coalition's efforts were matched by supporters of each question, who mounted less costly, but equally aggressive, campaigns.
Question A was petitioned onto the ballot by anti-tax activist Robin Ficker, who sought to undo a charter provision allowing seven of nine council members to override a tax cap approved by voters in 1990. It would have limited what the county can collect in property taxes to roughly the previous year's amount plus inflation.
The council observed the limit for 11 years, but in the past three it has invoked the "super majority" clause.
Ficker and the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee said Question A would lead to lower taxes, but County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and the Vote No Coalition warned of large budget cuts if it was approved.
Ficker was also the main proponent of Question B. Approval of the measure would have forced Duncan and council members Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) and Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) to step down at the end of their terms.
The job security of the four at-large council members was the target of Question C, backed by the Montgomery County Civic Federation.
Federation leaders and council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) said Question C, which would have eliminated at-large seats, was needed to lessen the influence of development and real estate interests by eliminating costly countywide council campaigns. Additional district seats, proponents argued, would also enable more minorities to finance council campaigns.
The Vote No Coalition countered that an all-district council would lead to parochialism and neighborhood rivalries that could paralyze the body.
In the school board race for District 2, covering Rockville and Potomac, Lange and Abrams, a prominent Montgomery County Republican, disagreed over countywide all-day kindergarten. Lange favored the idea, and Abrams opposed it.
In District 4, covering Silver Spring, Wheaton and Glenmont, Ervin and Fishman differed over whether students should be tracked by skill levels, such as gifted or special needs programs. Fishman defended the practice, while Ervin had concerns about whether the system was fair.