Four-year Terms, At-large Members and Redistricting?

The information below was provided by City staff to Councilmember Denise Mitchell (D4).

Tonight, the Mayor and Council will discuss four-year terms, as well as possibly reducing the number of representatives and keeping eight Councilmembers of which four will be district- elected members and four will be at-large Councilmembers. This could be done through a non-binding referendum in 2019 or as a charter member which means only five elected officials will need to vote in favor.

During the Mayor and Council Fall Retreat held last year, the 2018 priorities were identified.  Some of those priorities was discuss amending College Park’s Charter to create four-year staggering terms, transitioning four districts seats to four at-large seats; and mid-term redistricting.  These election changes were approved as a priority by the Mayor and Council on Feb. 13, 2018.

In an August Worksession, the City Council invited Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton to provide an overview of Mayor and Council’s switch to four-year terms. To provide some context, the City of Rockville has an approximately 61,000 residents. In order to explore such a significant change, Rockville created a Charter Review Commission that was charged to discuss the following three items:

  1. The length of the elected terms of the Mayor and Council;
  2. The number of members of the City Council;
  3. The schedule by which elections for the Mayor and Council are held.

Their Commission conducted public outreach and conducted interviews with other municipalities to come to their final recommendation.  As for the Mayor and Councilmembers’ term, the Commission recommended the term length should be extended from two years to four years.  On the question regarding the number of Councilmembers on the council, the Commission recommended increasing the council from four Councilmembers to six.  Finally, the Commission recommended elections be held every four years timing them with the Federal elections.

The City of Rockville put these items on an Advisory Referendum during their 2013 election.  After the 2015 election all four council members serve At-Large. Mayor Newton elaborated on that the having council to serve four year terms in her opinion increases accountability and and more is accomplished.

Redistricting — Historical information

College Park began with five districts from 1945-1951 and since 1991 to the present has had four districts with two Councilmembers per district; the Mayor is elected at large.

 

Dates Council Composition
1945 – 1951
Five districts with 1 Councilmember per district, plus 2 at-large seats, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 8
1953 – 1965
Six districts with 1 Councilmember per district, plus 2 at-large seats, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 9
1967 – 1989
Eight districts with 1 Councilmember per district, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 9
1991 – present*
Four districts with 2 Councilmembers per district, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 9

Redistricting and Lawsuits 1970s – 2000

  1. A Redistricting Committee was appointed in 1973, Councilman Kushner served as Chairman. In August 1975, the Redistricting Committee under Chairman Kushner stated that redistricting was necessary; the City Council accepted this report. In early 1974, UMD Student Government Representative, Larry Albert, appeared before the City Council voicing complaints regarding the age and residency requirements for registering to vote, as well as the need to redistrict. He noted that such a move was necessary because of the large number of students housed on campus.
  2. Renee Dubois, a university student, also believed the City Council should address the matter. Shortly thereafter, City Attorney, Mr. Topf, informed the Mayor and Council the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] was initiating a lawsuit against the City.
  3. On October 1, 1975, the ACLU filed suit representing campus students Renee Dubois and David Johnson in Prince George’s Circuit Court alleging malapportionment in the City’s voting districts. In June 1976, the Circuit Court ruled the students were not legal College Park residents and dismissed the suit. Dubois and Johnson appealed the ruling to the State Court of Appeals. In July 1977, the State Court ruled that the students had standing to sue and sent the case back to the Circuit Court. In October 1977, the students requested an injunction to delay the City’s election in the event that they won their suit. The Court denied granting the injunction; the students appealed that decision to the Appeals Court on Nov. 30, 1977.
  4. Meanwhile Robert Payne, Chairman of the Redistricting Committee, appointed in early 1976, filed a report with the City Council stating that the university students should be counted in any redistricting and that all Councilmembers should run at-large. Worth noting, a minority report from the committee disagreed on both points because they felt that: 1) at-large Councilmembers might result in some areas not being well represented, and 2) on counting the students, such an action would be the inclusion of an undefined population.
  5. In March 1978, the City approved new voting districts based on number of registered voters [128 students had registered]. The Court approved the redistricting plan but also allowed the appeal to continue. The Court ruled in favor of the students in Oct. 1979, and the City’s redistricting plan was ruled in violation of the 14th On Sept. 9, 1980 the City approved and submitted two plans to the Court. The plans included the possibility of having four districts with two representatives from each, keeping the eight districts with one representative each, or redistrict on some other basis [Municipal Scene article]. In Jan. 1981, the City Council revised one of the two plans because of the associated costs and resubmitted Plan A to the Maryland State Courts. The Court approved the City plan based on the number of registered voters in May of 1981. The students filed an appeal of the registered voters redistricting plan to the Appeals Court on Jan. 7, 1982. The Appeals Court, on July 19, 1982, upheld the redistricting based on the number of registered voters. In Oct. 1982 the ACLU filed requesting the Supreme Court to review the seven-year old case. In January 1983, the Supreme Court declined to review the case. The City then canceled the voter books and began an aggressive registration program.
  6. In June 1983, a redistricting committee chaired by Raymond Galloway, submitted two plans to the Council and a public hearing was scheduled for July. There were a total of five plans under consideration by the Council – two from the redistricting committee and three submitted by others. After considerable discussion, a plan was adopted in August 1983. The major problem was dividing the City into districts of equal voter distribution, as compact as possible, and still maintaining neighborhoods and similar interests as much as possible. Students still wanted their own districts so they could elect someone from campus to represent them.
  7. In July 1983, the City Council approved lowering the age to run for Council from 25 to 21 thus enabling a larger pool of prospective candidates from the campus to run. This change was a referendum question on November 1983 election ballot.
  8. Another redistricting commission was approved in October 1988 and appointed in November 1988 for the purpose of providing a redistricting plan. The charge to the commission was to redistrict on the basis of voter registration. Their plans were presented to the City Council in March 1989, and a public hearing was scheduled for April. There were four plans presented: two from the Committee (“Red Plan” and “Blue Plan”) and two from a Councilmember. In June the “Blue Plan” was adopted. It was based on registered voters as of October 1988 and several other criteria. Questions arose concerning the 1982 court decision. A suit was filed against the City over the Blue redistricting plan in early fall 1989, and the City retained counsel to represent the interests of the City in this matter.
  9. A settlement was proposed with six points to be covered by the redistricting plan which the City Council approved in October 1990. There were four settlement documents in all to be considered and then the judge would approve the outcome. In December 1990, the Municipal Scene carried a notice stating that the City Council was considering a resolution to divide the City into four districts with two council members from each. The Student Government representative stated at the January 1991 meeting that “this proposal” seemed fine.
  10. In 1991, a redistricting committee began the process of dividing the City into four districts having two representatives each for the total of eight council members. The districts were to be based on voter registrations numbers and census figures. This change was due to a court settlement of a suit brought by Michael Smith, a UMD student. The plan had to be in effect by May 1, 1991. A report was submitted to the City at the end of March, and five plans were submitted for consideration. The City Council introduced three of the plans at their April 9 meeting and scheduled a special meeting for April 30, 1991 for the adoption of the new redistricting plan. Plan #4 was adopted.
  11. In October 1993, a City resident filed a complaint with the County Board of Elections alleging voter registration fraud in the upcoming election. The City Council discussed what action, if any, they should take to prevent any problems with the election. Several motions were proposed, and the City attorney was directed to attend the hearing and present to the court a proposed affidavit as a solution to the suspected voter fraud. While awaiting a decision from the Court on the injunction request, Council authorized the City Manager to have to the authority to “door drop” notices to all City residents if there were any change to the election to be held on November 2. The election was held without any interruption.
  12. In June 1995, as the result of a complaint lodged with Council about possible voter fraud, Council sent a letter to the U. S. Attorney in Baltimore requesting an investigation of the complaint and the County’s response.
  13. Charter Change – To provide for a more orderly redistricting procedure the Council initiated a charter change to provide for an automatic redistricting after receipt of the regular Bureau of Census population data following each national census. This charter change was introduced and passed in 2001.

 

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