COLLEGE PARK—The Mayor and City Council voted to support state legislation some say will give resident more say in changing the city’s charter. The proposed legislation would decrease the number of registered voters needed to petition proposed charter amendments to referendum or to initiate a charter amendment. While the city council voted to support the […]
COLLEGE PARK—The Mayor and City Council voted to support state legislation some say will give resident more say in changing the city’s charter.
The proposed legislation would decrease the number of registered voters needed to petition proposed charter amendments to referendum or to initiate a charter amendment. While the city council voted to support the proposed bill, the Maryland Municipal League (MML) opposes it because it believes the legislation may give citizens too much power in official matters.
The current law requires a minimum of 20 percent of residents in a given municipality to petition a charter amendment into referendum or initiate one of their own, according to Mary Cook, a former city councilmember and a College Park resident.
“It’s enabling legislation for the municipalities to lower the number of people (needed to petition) to a little, increase it to a lot or not move it at all,” Cook said. “Our original idea was that it would enable municipalities to make a decision as to whether or not they want to go with the Maryland constitution, which says that you have to have at least 5 percent to take something to referendum.”
Cook said the legislation would require municipalities to have between 5 percent and 20 percent of their voter roll on a petition, or to have at least 10,000 signatures. However, she said issues arise in College Park because many of the city’s registered voters are college students who leave town once they graduate.
“The only way that a name is going to come off a voter roll is if the person actually notifies the county that he or she has moved and gives them their last address here,” Cook said. “So what happens is we end up with these voter rolls that are inflated. For example, we were looking at one of the fraternity houses and there were people registered living there from 10 years ago. Those guys are not in the fraternity house anymore.”
Cook said she hopes the bill passes, despite concerns raised by the MML.
“They represent government, they don’t represent the residents. And the government has to keep their power,” Cook said. “They say that it could be that there will be so many charter amendments and so many things can change in the town charter that the residents will take over. But isn’t that what government is all about?”
In a letter to Kumar Barve, the chair of the State House Environment and Transportation Committee, College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows asked for the committee’s support on the legislation.
“College Park voter rolls include many people who have moved away from College Park but have not changed their voter registration. This creates a higher bar for residents to successfully petition the government,” Fellows said in the letter. “On behalf of the City of College Park, I respectfully request your favorable consideration of this legislation.”
MML Director of Research Jim Peck said MML opposes the bill because it may have been proposed as a solution to problems only occurring in College Park that do not affect other municipalities.
“Rather than addressing this issue at home in College Park, what this bill sought to do was enact legislation that impacts all municipalities in this state,” Peck said. “There was concern that the bill would allow, in some cases, a very small number of people to bring potential devices and costly issues for the voters that would have significant and long-lasting impact afterwards. “
For example, Peck said, a municipality like Eagle Harbor with a small population would be able to take advantage of the law. Peck said there are 30 municipalities in the state with less than 500 people, and that could limit local government in those municipalities for years to come.
“Municipalities are very diverse in their size and service offerings,” Peck said. “You may have a large municipality like College Park with likely full service offerings, but there are a number of municipalities with very small populations. While there are municipalities like College Park with 30,000 people, the median municipality population in Maryland is about 1800.”
Peck said the MML legislative committee has not looked at the option of requiring a certain amount of signatures for some municipalities rather than a percentage because that specification is not on the original bill.
“We would have to reconsider the bill. But, again, in terms of one size fits all, if the bill said 1,500 then right away 45 percent of municipalities could never have a petition to referendum,” Peck said. “If it is specified as a certain number it might be difficult to be workable for a variety of municipalities.”
Peck said even if municipalities could choose the specific number they want to operate under, MML would have to revisit it because the bill has not been discussed under that context.