THE PRINCE George’s County Council is pushing for a job-protection program — for Prince George’s County Council members. The council has placed a question on the ballot this fall that will ask voters to add two at-large seats to the council, with the provision that current members who hit their term limits would be allowed to fill them.
Adding at-large seats in Prince George’s, where council members currently represent single districts, is the right thing to do. At-large council members can champion countywide viewpoints over parochial concerns, which is especially important in a county where district members too often tend only their own gardens. Yet it is possible to achieve the goal of a broad-minded legislative body — one that will support projects that benefit the county as a whole, even when they seem to give short shrift to individual sectors — without bloating bureaucracy and making a sweetheart deal for council members.
The deal Prince George’s council members want to make does look awfully sweet: Just in case there was any confusion, the ballot measure devotes nearly half of its 60-odd words to explaining in no uncertain terms that “a Council Member who has been elected to two consecutive terms of office as a district member shall be eligible to be elected as an at-large member.”
Four of the council’s nine members are freshmen, free to run for reelection when their terms expire. The remaining five members, however, must find the ballot initiative appealing. One is Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland), who made a name for herself in 2012 when police chased her down doing 108 mph at midday on the Beltway. “This is why people don’t like P.G.,” Ms. Toles told the officers then. If she decides she likes the county enough at the end of her tenure, a “yes” vote on the ballot question could help her stick around for another four years.
The question could have kept the council’s size constant by creating seven districts instead of nine. It could also have barred two-term district members from circumventing the term limits voters have said three times in the past 24 years they support. Even a stipulation stopping the current council members — but not future legislators — from extending their stays would have been slightly less unseemly. But the council seems less interested in smart solutions like those than it does in making sure its members don’t find themselves out of a job.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is right that at-large seats, in a general sense, are “good for government.” The Prince George’s proposal, unfortunately, is really only good for the local legislators who wrote it.