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.
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.
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.