Vote Set to Expand Number of Council Seats

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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The Prince George’s County Council recently supported a charter amendment to add two at-large seats, but the amendment isn’t winning over many county residents. On Nov. 8, county residents will vote on expanding the county council from nine to 11 members. The two non-district seats will be elected by approximately 900,000 county residents.

Prince George’s County Council members Karen Toles (D-District 7) and Andrea Harrison (D-District 5) could be candidates for the pending at-large seats. (Courtesy Photos)

Emma Andrews, a longtime resident of Peppermill Village, Md., located in central Prince George’s County near Seat Pleasant, Md., isn’t enthusiastic about the council’s proposed expansion. “I don’t see the necessity of two more county council seats,” Andrews told the AFRO. “I think the purpose of the two seats is to provide opportunity for some people to stay on the county council because they have served their time and they want to run again.”

If voters approve the charter amendment in November, the two seats would be open for candidates in the 2018 election cycle.

At-large seats on the county’s legislative body aren’t new. When Prince George’s County formed its first charter government in 1970, there were five at-large council members. In 1971, the voters approved six additional council members, one at-large and five district-based.

In 1980, after a ballot referendum, voters opted for nine district seats.

For many years, some Prince Georgians have called for at-large seats noting similar successful examples of such systems in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Md. Prince George’s County Council Chairman Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6) and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III argue that at-large seats would allow those members to focus on county-wide priorities and be impartial on neighborhood and district matters.

Andrews said the single hearing on July 11 did not provide enough community input on this issue. “The community needs more details about this,” she said. “I don’t like the attitude of some county council members that they know what’s best for the community. They need to talk to us about what we need.”

Belinda Queen-Howard, a member of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee representing District 25, said, “There are certain parts of the county that are prospering and other parts that are not. We should be electing people at the district level that can represent the county as a whole.”

Noting that social services in the county are being cut and “leaves need to be picked up, schools rebuilt, and our libraries need to be upgraded just like in the District of Columbia,” Queen-Howard said the present council should be doing those things. “Our county council members see what they want to see and aren’t thinking about the generations of county residents down the road,” she said.

There are so many questions about this amendment that the leadership of the Prince George’s County Young Democrats hasn’t taken a position on it yet. “There has been a lot of discussion about this,” Maurice Simpson Jr., president of the county’s Young Democrats and a candidate for delegate in 2018, told the AFRO. “There are many pros and cons. The decision on this will be made by the citizens and it is important that they are educated about this by Election Day.”

Simpson said his executive committee will make a recommendation to the membership on the at-large council members’ charter amendment and the members will vote to either support or reject it.

Queen-Howard said if voters approve the charter amendment, a political vetting process should take place for candidates for the positions. “We need to look at the people on the county council and their voting records and history,” she said. “We need to see if they have done anything for the county at-large?”

According to political observers, Karen Toles (D-District 7) and Andrea Harrison (D-District 5) may run for the at-large seats because they are completing their terms on the council and would be eligible to run for the position in 2018. Queen-Howard said she may also become a candidate.

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