A group of Takoma Park citizens pushing for a charter amendment to permit election of City Council members by wards were dealt a surprise setback at this week's council meeting by the city corporation counsel, Vincent Gingerich.
Gingerich said there are wide disparities in the populations of the present seven wards. If the system in which each ward elects one representative were put into practice, he said, the wards first would have to be reapportioned.
"I don't see how this could be done in less than six months," said Gingerich. "First, we would have to revise the wards, using the 1970 census figures. Then we'd have to hold a public hearing, then pass a council resolution for a charter amendment (changing the ward boundaries). And a charter resolution cannot occur until at least 50 days after the resolution.
"In my judgment," he added, "elections based on the present wards would be illegal."
David Prosten, chairman of the Citizens for Electoral Reform, the group pushing for a charter amendment, challenged Gingerich's statements.
"Why did it take until this point, when you knew we were working since early June, to decide the present wards would be illegal?" he asked.
Prosten said he had not been aware that the populations of the wards varied so widely.
The reform group has requested a special referendum before the March 1980 general election. However, if the ward reapportionment took as long as Gingerich estimated, it would be impossible, assuming the charter amendment were passed, to elect council members by wards before 1982.
Some members of the group were openly suspicious.
"We submitted a draft of this petition in June," said Sam Abbott, who lost the 1978 mayoral election 1978 by eight votes. "You all had this petition and it wasn't until tonight that you became constitutionalists."
The Citizens for Electoral Reform plan to study Gingerich's report to the council before planning their next action.
They also requested that a statement outlining their position be placed in the City Council minutes, which are mailed to all Takoma Park residents. A statement by Mayor John Roth, opposing the electoral change, was inserted in the minutes of the Nov. 13 meeting.