The Montgomery County Charter Review Commission, an appointed body that oversees the rules by which the county government operates, is expected to recommend tomorrow that the County Council be expanded to nine members, with five representing districts and four at-large members.
The County Council can accept, reject or modify the proposal. If the council approves any version of the plan, it must be put on the general election ballot.
In the past, Montgomery voters have rejected proposals that called for district-based election of candidates. But county officials, noting that a change in County Council election methods has been debated for more than a decade, said the plan favored by the commission mixes district-based and at-large representation in a way that voters may find more palatable.
Under Montgomery's current charter, five of the seven council members are required to live in separate election districts. County residents vote for all seven council members, including the two at-large members who do not represent specific areas of the county.
Those in favor of the redistricting plan being considered by the commission say it would give residents the clout of voting for the majority of five on the council while preserving the right to a specific representative from their general neighborhood. It will also give the growing but more sparsely populated upper reaches of Montgomery a stronger voice on the county council, the proponents argue.
"This is clearly an effort to put an end to the divisiveness that this issue has always engendered," said Stanton Gildenhorn, vice chairman of the commission. "Up-county residents have always felt underrepresented. We need to modify the charter to promote harmony in the county."
But opponents of redistricting say the Montgomery system is working fine and is a model of good government. They maintain that in Prince George's County, where council members represent districts rather than the entire county, government is slowed by a focus on parochial issues.
"It would be a mistake to radically change our structure. I don't see where the Prince George's experiment with election by district is something we'd want to follow," said commission Chairman C. Lawrence Wiser. He said council members from different districts would trade favors, leading to pork barrel politics on issues such as roads.
"I think citizens get the most response from council members for whom they vote. If you vote for all seven, all seven are going to be responsive to you," said Wiser, who vowed to oppose the plan, although he conceded it was likely to pass.
Both sides agree that the commission is likely to end its four-year term tomorrow with a recommendation to the county council that redistricting be adopted.
"We are definitely in favor of changing how our County Council members are elected. I will have to see what they do and what the wording is" before taking a stand on any commission proposal, said Jenny Sue Dunner, a member of the Voters of Representative Government, a proredistricting grass roots group. "But I am very pleased that they're looking at it."