HYATTSVILLE – As county voters chose to approve at-large council members in November, and the city of Hyattsville could follow. At the Dec. 19 city council meeting, the council voted unanimously (with members Edouard Haba and Ruth Ann Frazier absent) to approve a resolution directing the city’s board of elections to place “an advisory, non-binding […]
HYATTSVILLE – As county voters chose to approve at-large council members in November, and the city of Hyattsville could follow.
At the Dec. 19 city council meeting, the council voted unanimously (with members Edouard Haba and Ruth Ann Frazier absent) to approve a resolution directing the city’s board of elections to place “an advisory, non-binding referendum question” on the 2017 city election ballot to gauge residents’ opinions on the number of councilmembers on the council, the number of wards and whether to have councilmembers elected at-large by the entire city.
The council had previously discussed the issue at the Sept. 19, Oct. 17 and Nov. 7 meetings, and the city attorney drafted the resolution approved by the council Monday. Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said in the interim, staff worked on clarifying the wording on each ballot question.
“The phrasing of each of the options was changed to make it a little bit simpler and easier to understand for those in the booth,” she said.
The ballot language includes three questions related to the council’s composition. If “results of the ballot question imply majority support of this effort” to make changes, council documents read, the city would create a resident committee to work with city staff and the board of elections to determine a strategy to implement the change.
At earlier discussions, the possibility of also looking at the role of the mayor concurrently with the council’s composition had been brought up, but the May 2017 ballot question does not address the mayor’s role. It does include three questions, the first asking voters whether the size of the council should be reduced. It is currently composed of 10 members, two for each of the five wards.
The second question on the ballot will ask voters to indicate “yes” or “no” to four options on how, exactly, the council’s size could be reduced. One option would be to keep the five wards but have only one councilmember per ward; another, to reduce both the number of wards and the number of councilmembers representing each ward; the third, to increase the number of wards but reduce to one the number of councilmembers per ward; and the final option, to reduce the number of wards but leave two councilmembers representing each ward.
The final question asks whether there should be “one or more” councilmembers elected at-large.
Voters will get to give their opinion on those questions, and the council’s discussion of the issue centered around how those opinions would be captured. Specifically, Councilwoman Shani Warner wanted to know if the results could reflect differences in opinion on how to change the composition from people in favor of a change generally and those not in favor.
“One thing I’m curious about is a way that the election results will reflect, to us, the answers to question two and three that come from people who want to change the number of council members and the answers to two and three from people who don’t want to reduce the number of councilmembers,” she said. “I don’t think I would discount input if it came from people who didn’t want to change, but I think it would give us a little more granularity to evaluate what it is that, genuinely, residents want and how to rank those preferences.”
However Councilman Patrick Paschall disagreed, saying such data is not collected for other aspects of a person’s vote and doing so might impact people’s choices.
“The reason I hope that we can’t do that is because I’d be concerned about how we’re tracking data and how it links back to individual voter choices,” he said. “We don’t know that this person voted for Candidate Y for the president and Candidate A for the Senate, and so on. So I would be concerned about the integrity and the ethics of the vote.”