Montgomery County has a larger population than almost 10 states and is still growing. Its legislative body, the Montgomery County Council, makes decisions on myriad issues.
That council has nine members, four of whom are at-large, elected to four-year terms by all county voters, and five of whom are elected to four-year terms from districts established every decade after the national census. Because of voter-approved term limits enacted last year, council members are limited to three terms.
Is this the best way for the County Council to be structured? Should we continue a system that has been in effect since 1990, when the county's population was about 760,000 — far fewer than the 1.04 million as of 2016 — or should we make changes?
The current structure of the council allows overrepresentation by some parts of the county. Three council members are from Takoma Park, and another lives very close to Takoma Park. Nearly half the council — the at-large members — must appeal in their campaigns and, if elected, perform constituent services for more than 1 million people. And some at-large council members may think, and perhaps act, as if they are more important than district-elected council members because they were elected by the voters of the whole county rather than those in a single district.
On the other hand, it is not as if the current structure of the Montgomery County Council demands that there be overrepresentation by one part of the county. Anyone can run and win. The problem may be in who runs and how much support he or she commands rather than in the structure of the council.
Also, the current structure of the council ensures that every county voter votes for a majority of the council: his or her district representative plus the four at-large members. And the current list of candidates and potential candidates for the at-large positions does not show an overabundance from any part of the county.
Unfortunately, many county residents think that the current Montgomery County Council does not represent them properly. The debate and vote last year on term limits, which won by a 2-to-1 majority, shows that voters are not happy with the current council.
All these issues are being considered by the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission, a group of 11 county citizens, six of whom were appointed by the County Council and five of whom were appointed by the county executive, with no more than six registered with one political party. Its job is to study the charter and make recommendations to the County Council for changes. Any change the council recommends would go on the ballot so that voters have the final say.
Commission members, while open to all ideas, are mainly considering two proposals: reducing the number of at-large seats or eliminating them altogether. A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18.
Changing the county charter is no small thing. Voters have an opportunity to create a council that works for them.
The writer is chairman of the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission.