Mayor and Council to Choose Earmarks and Decide Upcoming Election Changes
At its Monday, February 27, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss proposed earmarks for the FY24 federal budget, requests from the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and recommendations from the Charter Review Commission. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the preservation of public art, funding for the Rockcrest Ballet Center, Taste of Rockville agreement, and funding for the flood resilience master plan, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on operating budget and capital improvements budget for FY2024.
Yes, Congress is openly using earmarks again, “funds provided for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient.” For some, it’s simply another form of pork barrel politics but for others it’s a vital project. Perhaps the most famous earmark was by US Senator Ted Stevens to construct the Gravina Island Bridge or the “Bridge to Nowhere” for $250 million in 2002. But if you want federal funds for a specific project, the best way to ensure it is through earmarks. This year, the City of Rockville is considering several potential requests to Senator Cardin, Senator Van Hollen, and Congressman Raskin, including the emergency operations center at 6 Taft Court, police radio equipment ($1.4 million!), storm drain improvements in Potomac Woods, security for the water treatment plant, and water main or sewer main rehabilitation in an “equity focused area” (not identified but somewhere in southeast Rockville).
Preparations for the 2023 Mayor and Council election are underway and candidate information packets should be ready by May 1—however, there is still lots to be done. The Board of Supervisors of Elections is waiting for approval from the Mayor and Council on several changes to the City Charter and City Code in limbo; proposed translation of outreach materials in Spanish, Chinese, and French; adding a second vote center at Thomas Farm and placing ballot drop boxes in Montrose, Lincoln Park, and the Rockville Senior Center. Indeed, if the minimum voting age is lowered from 18 years to 16 years and the deadline for submitting nomination petitions is increased from 60 to 90 days prior to the election, the City may have already missed its ability to implement these changes for the November 2023 election.
Discussion of the 30 recommendations by the Charter Review Commission continues, this time on a more “precise, open, transparent, and definitive administrative process” for filling a vacancy on the city council after two years; adding a “none of the above” option on election ballots; increasing the size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections; increasing the number of ballot drop-off boxes; lowering the voting age to 16; and limiting the number of consecutive terms of council members to three four-year terms (but allowing a person to serve 12 years as a councilmember and 12 years as mayor—really? 12 years is plenty, give other people a chance!).
More details in the 450-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_02272023-6820.
Mayor and Council to Tackle Elections and Rental Housing
At its Monday, February 6, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss lowering the voting age to 16, permitting non-US citizens to vote, setting term limits, creating representative districts, changing the election year, and changing to ranked-choice voting as well as several issues affecting renters and landlords. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are North Stonestreet Avenue sidewalk improvements and city-wide bus stops improvements, among others. I suspect this will be a loooong meeting with these topics.
There are several major changes to voting and elections under consideration, prompted by recommendations by the Charter Review Commission. The arguments for and against each of these recommendations is too lengthy to even summarize here, so read the report for yourself online. At this meeting, the City Council will hold a Public Hearing to accept comments from residents and will then decide whether to move forward, stop, or send it to the voters for their advice (this last happened in 2013).
The Mayor and Council has decided to move forward with the expansion of City Council from five to seven members (which includes the Mayor) and will be reviewing the changes to the City Code at this meeting. As written, this expansion will occur in this year’s (2023) election (I’m unsure what will happen if the Council decides to change the election year to align with presidential elections).
On other matters, the Council will discuss the Voluntary Rent Guidelines, which includes a recommended maximum rent increase of 5.8 percent (in 2022, it was 0.4 percent). Secondly, they are considering radon testing for basement or ground-contact rentals, which follows Montgomery County’s requirements, and that the City be allowed to inspect rental facilities if they suspect code violations (currently, “property owners are not obligated to allow City inspectors to inspect the inside of the rental facility”).
More details in the 143-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_02062023-6800.
Mayor and Council to Expand Mayor and Council?
At its Monday, January 30, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss increasing the number of city councilmembers and annexing 1202 Seven Locks Road. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the purchase of three dump trucks. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on the Town Center Master Plan.
The City Council will consider the Charter Review Commission’s recommendation to add two new councilmember seats, which would expand from five to seven seats (which includes the Mayor). This meeting will include a Public Hearing to accept comments from the community before proceeding to a Resolution. In 2013, voters were not in favor of a change but the Charter Review Commission included it among their sixteen recommendations in September 2022 with the following commentary:
“Increasing the number of seats on the city council will allow the council to be more engaged with the residents and to learn more about the communities within the city. This could provide more opportunities for people to run for office and to serve their city as well as their communities, especially based on the increased size of the population since 2012. Currently how much does the council know and understand about the history and circumstances of the city they represent? If the number of seats increased from 5 to 7, depending on the outcome of the results from an election, parts of the city that are not represented as well as other parts of the city could be actively involved in city politics by having a seat at the table.
“Expanding the number of seats could have a possible impact on decisions that require a majority vote and could avoid a vote being deadlock because of the size of the council and not enough votes to move forward. Moreover, increasing the number could allow for the members of the council to meet with the residents where they are and not just when decisions are being made about the place where they live, work or go to school. In the past, each council member had a day set aside to meet with the residents who wanted to have conversations outside of public meetings. To continue this practice by having more seats on the council could allow residents to speak freely with council members who they feel understood their community especially when there is a need in the community or an issue that needs to be addressed. Ultimately, this could enhance the importance of consensus-building between the council and the residents.
“Finally, if council members engaged more with the residents outside the community they live in, it could provide more insight about voting on issues that come before them. So, expanding the size of the council can prove to really be effective for the city and its mavor and council.”
More details in the 97-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01302023-6795.
Mayor and Council to Consider Changes to Mayor and Council
At its Monday, December 12, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the FY22 financial report and the FY24 budget priorities. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a dozen items, including easements, services, grant agreement, and the tenth amendment to the interim management agreement with Morguard for Rockville Town Square, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on priorities with the District 17 Delegation and recommendations from the 2020-22 Charter Review Commission.
The Charter Review Commission has developed recommendations for a wide variety of issues related to the City Charter (its constitution), including expanding the size of the City Council, term limits for councilmembers, alternative voting systems, translation of election materials, the scope and size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and increasing voter turnout. After forty meetings and interruptions due to the pandemic, the Commission is recommending that,
“the City maintain the status-quo on several topics (e.g., staggered Council terms and alternative methods of advertising elections), the Commission is also recommending bolder changes to City policy and operations in order to enhance accountability and transparency, increase voter turnout, and advance racial equity and social justice. Notably, the Commission is recommending such reforms as an increase in the size of the Council, implementation of term limits on the Mayor and Council, creation of representative districts, exploring changing the time of the election, and allowing residents who are not United States citizens and those at least 16 years of age to vote in municipal elections.”
More details in the 465-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_12122022-6765.
Heard on the street: things are heating up in the West End neighborhood regarding design guidelines proposed by the West End Citizens Association. I suspect this is related to the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. A website opposed to WECA’s action can be found at PreserveTheWestEnd.com.
Welcome the Mayor and Council for 2019-2023
Congratulations to Bridget Donnell Newton, Monique Ashton, Beryl L. Feinberg, David Myles and Mark Pierzchala, who were elected as Rockville’s Mayor and Council for 2019-2023. Ashton and Myles will bring new perspectives to the Council, both being under 50 years old and people of color.
Just as important is the tremendous turnout for the election. A total of 12,213 ballots were cast in this election, versus 6,468 cast in 2015. The number of votes cast increased by 88.82% between 2015 and 2019. It validates the efforts by the Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) to increase turnout and reverse the downward trend of previous elections by adopting vote-by-mail. Although used in many other states, this is the first time this type of voting has been adopted in Maryland, so I’m sure many other jurisdictions will be asking Rockville for more information. A big thanks to BOSE, the City Clerk’s office, and the city’s Communications department for planning and executing this complex project.
An inauguration ceremony for the new Mayor and Council will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 17 at F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive. The inauguration is free and open to the public.
The first meeting of the new Mayor and Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, November 18 at City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave.
Election Month Ends Today
Maryland’s first vote-by-mail election ends today at 8:00 p.m. in Rockville in an effort to encourage more people to vote. Rockville’s voter turnout has declined regardless of the number of candidates or ballot questions, from 16.94% of registered voters in 2011 to 16.51% in 2013 and 15.87% in 2015, when the city held its first election to four-year terms. (Previously, Rockville’s elections were held every two years.)
In April 2018, Rockville’s Mayor and Council voted unanimously to follow the Board of Supervisors of Elections’ recommendation to implement vote-by-mail for the fall 2019 election. At least 22 states allow elections to be conducted by mail. Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, and some counties in California, hold elections entirely by mail.Continue reading →
Campaign Contribution Limits Unconstitutional
The City of Rockville recently determined that some of the campaign contribution limits in the Election Code are unconstitutional. It’s a bit confusing, so here’s the official notice from the City Clerk:
The Board of Supervisors of Elections wants to let you know that the Mayor and Council introduced an ordinance this past Monday, September 9, 2019, that, if adopted, would amend Section 8-78 of Chapter 8, “Elections,” of the City Code to delete the $2,000 limit on total contributions in an election cycle in subsections (d) and (e). A total contribution limit has been found by the United States Supreme Court to be unconstitutional in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. While the total contribution limit is unconstitutional, the limit of contributions to an individual or a campaign committee of $1,000 is constitutional and that limit remains in full force and effect. While the ordinance introduced by the Mayor and Council on September 9 has not yet been adopted, the Board wants you to know that the $2,000 total contribution limit is unenforceable and will not be enforced.Email from Sara Taylor-Ferrell, “Notice From Rockville Board of Supervisors of Elections – Contributions,” September 13, 2019.
For context, the Election Code reads (text recently eliminated is struck through) :Continue reading →