The battle lines are emerging in the debate over three ballot questions that would bring significant changes to Montgomery County government if adopted by voters Nov. 2.
Questions A, B and C, as the referendums are designated on the ballot, are opposed by most elected officials in the county because the measures would, they say, place undue restrictions on their ability to govern. Other activists and community groups find the proposals attractive for exactly that reason.
Question A would prevent the County Council from overriding a property tax cap that restricts yearly increases to roughly the rate of inflation. Question B limits council members and the county executive to three four-year terms. Question C would eliminate the four at-large council seats and instead create nine single-member districts, each of which would serve about 110,000 residents.
While referendums are a staple of Montgomery County elections, an anticipated surge in voter turnout -- driven by the presidential race -- has brought an unusual intensity to this year's contest.
Yesterday, the Montgomery County Civic Federation secured the endorsement of former county executive and council member Neal Potter (D) in its effort to create an all-district council. Currently, five members represent districts and four run countywide
Potter and former County Council member Rose Crenca (D) said at a rally in Rockville that they are changing their long-standing opposition to all-single-member districts because of the increasing expense of running countywide.
"I think this is a way to improve democracy and get people closer to their representative and the representatives closer to the people they represent," said Potter, who served six terms on the County Council and one term as county executive (1990-94).
In addition to the civic federation, which is a coalition of community organizations, the Sierra Club, Audubon Naturalist Society, Common Cause Maryland, the Libertarian and Green parties of Montgomery County, the Men's Republican Club and the Maryland Taxpayers League have all announced support for Question C.
Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) broke ranks with his colleagues by supporting Question C as a way of trying to limit the influence of development money in campaigns. Andrews, a former executive director of Common Cause Maryland, also traveled to Prince George's County last weekend to campaign against a ballot proposal to create two at-large council seats in that county.
But most county leaders, including County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), are organizing to defeat all three ballot questions.
"If any of these questions pass, it will be a setback for Montgomery County," Duncan said yesterday. "We pride ourselves on looking at the long term, looking at the big picture, and these measures will make it more difficult to do this."
Duncan and other leaders said the council will become more parochial and less likely to see how certain issues benefit the entire county if at-large seats are eliminated.
Duncan and Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), along with several other council members, have joined a coalition of about two dozen business, labor and community groups -- including the teachers union and the Chamber of Commerce -- in forming the Vote No Coalition to campaign against all three ballot questions.
Becky Wagner, executive director of the Community Ministries of Montgomery County and co-chair of the Vote No Coalition, said the organization plans to raise money to send mailers to voters and do a thorough job of "educating voters."
Questions A and B are being promoted by anti-tax activist Robin Ficker, who has been spent many years gathering petitions to place questions on the county ballot.
In recent weeks, Ficker has been putting up green-and-white "You're Entering A HIGH TAX ZONE" yard signs in support of Question A.
Last week, he received a boost when the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee voted unanimously to endorse the measure. The GOP decided to take no position on the term limits and single-member districts questions.
The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, at Duncan's urging, voted last Wednesday to campaign against all three measures.