Former Prince George's County Council member Francis B. Francois, one of the county's most popular politicians, has strongly urged Prince George's voters to defeat all three charter amendments affecting the size of the County Council.
Speaking as chairman of a 4-week-old group called Citizens Helping Organize to Insure Charter Endurance (CHOICE), Francois said that ballot Question K, which would eliminate all at-large voting for council members, would create a council that would have trouble working together to find solutions for countywide problems. He said Question M, which would require at-large election of 11 council members, would not allow the representation by district called for in the charter amendment approved in 1978. And he opposes Question L, which would reduce the council's size from 11 to nine with a majority running at-large, because he feels that the size of the council should be increased.
Francois, former council member from Bowie, resigned last month to become executive director of a transportation lobbying group after 18 years in county government.
Francois' denouncements came during a press conference at the Calverton Ramada Inn, the main target of which was the defeat of Question K. Question K was brought to the ballot by a group called Citizens for a Community Council and backed by a group of independent Democrats who defeated the county Democratic organization in the 1978 election. The supporters include Democratic council member Sue V. Mills and Republican County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
The questions on the council size and shape are the hottest items of local political interest, with politicians and community groups joining the fight to determine how the council will be elected.
Francois said the Question K would produce nine council members, "each going for his own little enclave. There would be very litte to tie these people together on matters of countywide interest," he said.
Supporters of the proposal argue that council members elected by district would be more accountable to the voters.
Backers of Question K charge that questions L and M were put on the ballot by the council as an effort to confuse the voters. While there is no active support for Question L, some council members have been pushing for Question M, sponsored by council member Deborah Marshall.
Last week, however, the Democratic Central Committee came down on the side of rejecting all three measures and allowing the 1978 charter amendment prescribing five council members elected from districts and six at-large, to stand for the 1982 election. Francois' CHOICE plans to spend about $2,000 in the remaining two weeks to lead that drive.
Francois and CHOICE co-founder Tom Hendershot, a New Carrollton lawyer, said that K would not cut down the influence of entrenched Democratic "slatemakers," as its proponents claim. "Good political organizations can deal with any arrangement you can devise," said Francois.
Francois fears that nine individual districts would destroy the effect of zoning and planning reforms he has worked for since he was one of the five appointed county commissioners, before charter government came in 1970.
"Practically, it [the county] was divided up into five areas," he said of the old commissioner system. "This, I think, is going to be one gigantic step backwards. You would have nine little zoning czars, each of which would control the zoning in his area."
There has been some controversy over which of the three propositions would most benefit the county's black community. Supporters of K say that the national NAACP supports voting by district as a way of increasing representation. Several black leaders in Prince George's however, said they believe that all at-large voting would take advantage of a widely dispersed black voting population.
Francois used the nine-district school board, which historically has had only one black member, as an example of how the interests of a "white homeowner dominated county" would overwhelm the black minority without some at-large representation.
"The position of the black community has been severely abused by the school board," he said.