Members of the Takoma Park City Coucil have been presented with a petition for a charter amendment that challenges the way they were elected to office.
The petition, signed by more than 2,000 Takoma Park voters, was given to the council last week. It calls for election of the seven council members on the basis of seven voting wards, rather than by the at-large system that now exists.
Citizens for Electoral Reform, an adhoc group that circulated the petition, contends that the president system impedes attempts by any candidate other than those nominated as part of a slate to win citywide office.
Since its formation in 1954, a nonpartisan group called the Citizens for Sound Government has nominated a full slate of candidates for the City Council. Almost without exception, the slate has swept every election held in the past 25 years.
"The petition flowed from overall experience," said David Prosten, chairman of the petition group. "In the last election, we saw some qualified people absolutely drubbed, even though they had overwhelming support in their own wards."
Mayor John Roth, who heads the Citizens for Sound Government, views the matter differently.
"The proposal (to establish ward-only voting) has been referred to as a reform," he said in a prepared statement. It is really a throwback."
According to Roth, at-large elections, which have replaced the ward system in most Maryland municipalities, prevent the corruption and parochialism that characterized "machine" city politics around the turn of the century.
"The council will act upon the petition in accord with legal requirements," he said.
According to state law, if at least 20 percent of the city's registered voters have signed a petition calling for a charter change, the question must be placed on the ballot of a citywide election.
Because that is done, however, the city clerk will check signatures on the petition with current voting lists from Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Assuming that the petition contains enough valid signatures, the council must then decide whether to hold a special election or to place the question on the ballot of the next general election, in March 1980. The council may decide the issue at its next scheduled meeting on Nov. 26, if the signatures have been checked by that time.
"The last regular election cost $6,000," noted Roth. "We should spare the taxpayers the expense of holding still another election, since one is scheduled for next March."
The $6,000 covered such costs as supplies, the use of voting machines and a day's salary for poll watchers, according to city administrator Herb Gilsdorf.
The petition group has requested a special election. "Given the nature of the issue, we feel that it should be decided separately from election of the council members," said Prosten. "It's a 'yes or no' question that doesn't even need voting machines. It could be done with pieces of paper and a cardboard box, if need be.
"What's the price of democratic procedure?" Prosten added. "By refusing a special election, the effet is to guarantee the slate two more years in office."