Council Wants A Review of the City's Charter

A 12-member panel will consider council term lengths, composition and elections.

The Rockville City Council took the first steps on Monday toward creating a panel to review the city’s charter with a focus on the size and terms of the mayor and council members and the timing of city elections.

Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said she proposed the commission in the spirit of collaboration with the council and the community.

“I have two motivations,” the mayor said. She would like to lengthen mayor and council member terms from two years to four year and to increase the size of the council.

“Both of these things can take place, if the council is interested, without even having a charter commission review,” she said.

Councilwoman Bridget Donnell Newton said she supports convening a commission to look at the length on mayor and council terms. She cautioned against making any suggestions that would prejudice the commission’s recommendations.

“I think it’s better to leave it open and let the commission determine the results,” she said.

Marcuccio, who has pushed for a charter review commission since her first run for mayor in 2009, said she has asked former Rockville Mayor Steven VanGrack to serve as commission chairman.

The commission would comprise up to 12 members. Council members will suggest up to three members each. Nominees will be contacted by the city clerk’s office to determine their interest and availability to serve.

Councilman John Hall said he has already tapped his nominees. Longtime community activist Wilma Bell and two members of the city’s planning commission—Don Hadley and Kate Ostell—have each agreed to serve on the commission, Hall said.

Hall said he does not support either lengthening terms or increasing the number of council members.

“That does not mean that I would not be interested in hearing what our thoughtful community has to say about them,” Hall said.

Councilman Mark Pierzchala said he too is “willing to keep an open mind,” adding that, “I think the two questions you pose will make the task of this charter commission easier than [that of] the last one because they had several more tasks to consider.”

A commission that reported to the City Council in December 2002 considered council term lengths and size as well as other issues, including creating councilmanic districts, allowing resident alien citizens of Rockville to vote in city elections and making referenda binding on the council.

Click on the PDF above to read the city charter.

Hall was a member of the council when the last commission met. Marcuccio served as a member of that commission.

During the citizens’ forum portion of Monday’s meeting, Theresa Defino, a community activist and member of the Rockville Community Coalition, urged the council to put any proposed charter changes to a voter referendum.

“I believe most residents would be aghast to learn that that the council could lengthen terms, add more members, impose district representation and make other sweeping changes with just a 3-2 vote at this dais,” she said.

Defino also cited a minority report from the 2002 commission that argued against moving to four-year terms, as Marcuccio is proposing.

"‘Four-year terms will change the dynamics of balance between the mayor and council and the city manager,’” Defino read from the report. “‘The longer term increases the sense of security for members of the mayor and council and thereby, may influence their participation in the day-to-day running of the city.’"

Marcuccio was one of three commission members to sign on to the minority report, Defino said.

Click on the PDF above to read Defino’s entire testimony in written form.

On Monday, Marcuccio said that when she was appointed to the commission she believed the council should move toward four-year terms.

After months of study as a commission member “it seemed to me that the idea of two years made more sense because you could turn the council around,” she said. “However, I have since been elected to this body … and I can tell you, [two-year terms] doesn’t work.”

The city “is out of tune with the rest of the elected officials around our state, around our county,” Marcuccio said. “We are not able to keep a sense of consistency.

“I think that council members have a better chance of sticking around for a while. But the mayor is the one who gets the fire. And that’s the one that you need to make sure that you have as the best possible individual in place. And I am very much convinced that we should look seriously at that four years.”

Pierzchala said that the council should charge the panel with examining the “focus areas” of term lengths and council size.

“Ancillary questions” such as whether terms should be staggered should be left up to the commission to consider, should it so choose, “as long as they keep the two focus areas,” Pierzchala said.

Pierzchala said he has identified two people to serve on the commission and they have agreed to do so.

“No overlap with Mr. Hall[‘s nominees],” he said.

Councilman Tom Moore said he would like the commission to also consider when the city holds elections.

“They have not always been in the November of odd years. They’ve been in May, they’ve been in other times,” Moore said.

Moore said he would like the commission to consider holding elections in even years, and again consider weekend voting, which, he said “has caught on more” since the last charter review commission met.

Newton said she would “strongly support,” the idea.

City staff has recommended that the commission be appointed in June, meet monthly from July through December (with a month’s recess for August) and deliver an interim report to the council in October and a final report in January.

Moore asked what the council would do about the final recommendations: “Will we have hearings on them ourselves? Will we have a referendum? What is our plan?”

“I would not be comfortable without a referendum on certain questions,” Hall said.

Marcuccio agreed that public hearings and a referendum giving voters a chance to ratify any proposed charter reforms would be reasonable.

“The more participatory this is, the better it will be,” she said.

Tom Moore April 11, 2012 at 11:21 AM
A clarification: When she said she would "strongly support" my idea, Councilmember Newton was graciously agreeing with my request to add "election scheduling" to the Charter Review Commission's mandate, but she was not expressing an opinion on whether she supported weekend voting.
Theresa Defino April 11, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Thanks for such a thorough article. I was pleased to see a positive response to the suggestion that a referendum is imperative, if changes are proposed. This was also supported in testimony given by Roald Schrack, also with the Rockville Coalition, who served on the 2002 charter review commission. I was NOT pleased that the mayor and council all seem to have already chosen their folks to serve. This should be done only after a transparent call, citywide, for volunteers. That has not happened. Surely we can take as much care, if not more, in choosing the commission members as was taken for the APFO task force. Interested individuals were required to submit their names in advance and complete an application. All of that was publicly available.
Jeff Hawkins April 11, 2012 at 01:46 PM
I agree 100% with Ms. Defino's argument. Any proposed changes "must be" put to a voter referendum. This is the only way to do it properly. Personally.....I would keep things as they are.
Joseph Jordan April 11, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Several months ago, and on more than one occasion, councilmembers were asked to submit names they wanted to nominate for the commission. No one objected or suggested doing it any other way. As for APFO task force applications being public, that was not the case. When one applicant expressed concern that he/she was not selected, I asked to see the applications and was turned down by the City Attorney. Until then, all applications for boards and commissions were not only public, they were included on the agenda with the appointments. I don't agree with the decision to not make these applications available to the public or that they are considered "personnel" sensitive, as if they were City employees.
Theresa Defino April 11, 2012 at 05:46 PM
The city sent a press release asking for volunteers for the committee. That's the way this should proceed as well. As for "no one objecting," perhaps "no one" was expecting the city to deviate from normal procedure and I wasn't aware that there was a time limit to raise concerns. Here's what was sent: -------- Original Message -------- Subject: News Release - Rockville Planning Commission Seeks Volunteers for APFO Advisory Committee Date: Fri, 05 Nov 2010 11:05:55 -0400 (EDT) From: City of Rockville, MD <jgrbach@rockvillemd.gov> Reply-To: jgrbach@rockvillemd.gov Contact: Marylou Berg FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Communication Manager November 5, 2010 Tel.:240.314.8105 E-mail: mberg@rockvillemd.gov Fax: 240.314.8130 Website: http://www.rockvillemd.gov/ Rockville Planning Commission Seeks Volunteers for APFO Advisory Committee ROCKVILLE, Md., November 5, 2010 - The Rockville Planning Commission is accepting applications for an advisory committee that will examine the City's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). The APFO ensures that public facilities and services, including transportation, public schools, fire and emergency service, and water and sewer service are sufficient for the impact of new development. Rockville's APFO was adopted five years ago.
Theresa Defino April 11, 2012 at 05:47 PM
The rest The committee will review the effectiveness of the APFO and make recommendations to the Planning Commission, who will, in turn, make recommendations to the Mayor and Council. The Planning Commission is seeking up to nine members for the new committee, which will meet for six months. Once formed, the committee will determine a meeting schedule. Anyone who is interested may apply. To apply, submit an application form and resume by Nov. 15 to David Hill, chairman, Planning Commission, City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850, or by e-mail to planning.commission@rockvillemd.gov.
Theresa Defino April 11, 2012 at 05:53 PM
As I said on the Gazette story today, "We need to be on guard that the commission isn't packed with individuals who already support making changes that the mayor wants. That is not the purpose of a review commission." http://www.gazette.net/article/20120411/NEWS/704119482/1124/representing-rockville-group-to-review-council-s-size-terms&template=gazette#comments
Max A. van Balgooy April 11, 2012 at 08:35 PM
I'm sorry to read that the Mayor has already selected a chair for the committee, even before citizens had been asked to participate and members selected. Usually commissions and committees in Rockville elect or at least nominate their own chairs, with the consent of Council. I'm also sorry to hear that the Mayor believes that these changes to the Charter can be made without a citizens committee to review and evaluate them. Changes to the length of terms have been attempted and failed with the voters in the last decade, so in this case, it's crucial that these ideas are thoroughly evaluated by an independent group before it's defeated by the voters again.
Joseph Jordan April 11, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Max, are you suggesting a separate citizen review committee be formed to evaluate what the citizen based charter review commission recommends? That makes no sense to me.
Theresa Defino April 11, 2012 at 08:58 PM
You're right, Max. The citizens should be, but haven't been "asked to participate."
Peter Mork April 12, 2012 at 12:09 PM
First we read: "'I have two motivations,' the mayor said. She would like to lengthen mayor and council member terms from two years to four year and to increase the size of the council." Okay, fair enough, the mayor would like to avoid the hassle of being reelected every two years. (Even though the citizens have consistently rejected this option when put to referendum.) But, then we read: "She has asked former Rockville Mayor Steven VanGrack to serve as commission chairman." Wait a minute! This process seems to make a mockery of independence. The mayor has already chosen a chairperson (a power usually reserved for the board or commission itself) who will push her agenda. I agree fully with Bridget: "I think it's better to leave it open and let the commission determine the results." I would go one step further, and ask VanGrack to decline the nomination in light of the taint already associated with this commission.
Saul Parker April 12, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Well y'all so-called informed activists, do you think a referendum will bring out a larger vote than does elections? Average "Joe" and "Jane" don't give an aunt fanny about either one. And that's the way it is!
Jeff Hawkins April 12, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Saul, Don't think anyone said anything about the purpose of needing a referendum being "a large turn-out". It would be nice if their was a large turn-out, but I don't think that's the point or issue. The point is for those concerned, involved citizen's is to have an opportunity to register their viewpoint and not have the local Government run like a dictatorship. I think even "Joe and Jane" could rise above mediocrity and "take part". If they don't, then they have nobody to blame but themselves.
Saul Parker April 12, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Jeff (and who said you could call me Saul?), You miss the point. Point is that majority of Rockville voters do not care period about the actions of Mayor and City Council. Elections are more important than anything, and turnout is low, consequently referenda are meaningless in greath scheme of things..... not to flog a dead hores. Incidentally, you can call me anything but not late for dinner, heheeheh. And blame be damned..... don't vote you get fined is what I think should be.
Joseph Jordan April 13, 2012 at 10:10 PM
For the 2002 Commission, the M&C appointed the whole body as a group and designated the co-chairs. It was publicly presented as a governing body consensus. The commission did not get to select its own chair(s). It was left up to the co-chairs how to structure the commission and carry-on. In order to get citizen input and involvement, the resolution to form the commission included the duty and responsibility "To solicit citizen input regarding these issues by public forums or other process." As for stacking the deck with folks partial to the Mayor's vision, how will that happen if each Councilmember can nominate 2 to 3 names of his and her own chosing?
Peter Mork April 13, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Regardless of how it was done 10 years ago, since then the tradition has been for boards and commission (including the ad hoc Citizens Implementation Committee) to select its own chair. That commission was publicly advertised, applications were collected, and the commission formed with the consent of the M&C. There is a specific example of how to transparently and openly form a commission. In terms of influencing the committee, it seems you have little familiarity with how boards and commissions are run. Whereas the chair has a single vote, for most such bodies the chair a) sets the agenda, b) runs the meeting and c) establishes the tenor of the meeting. So, yes, selecting a chairperson is "stacking the deck."
Theresa Defino April 13, 2012 at 10:49 PM
The only resolution that has been seen is from 2002 and that language referred to soliciting imput during the process, not the formation of the committee. The one resolution establishing this commission has not even been released, discussed, or voted on. So surely having already chosen the members and the chair is premature.
Max A. van Balgooy April 14, 2012 at 04:24 PM
No, Joe. I'm responding to the Mayor's comment that, "Both of these things [enlarging council, lengthening terms] can take place, if the council is interested, without even having a charter commission review.” It's her suggestion that the City Council proceed without a charter review commission that makes no sense to me.
Joseph Jordan April 14, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Max, it is a fact the Council can proceed without a commission. In the unlikely event that would ever happen, public hearings must be held. In addition, a petition could be presented that would require the proposed amendments to be submitted on referendum. I don't know where you got the idea the Mayor intends to try and pass a resolution without a commission. Even if she did, she wouldn't get anyone on the Council to vote for it. Maybe you need to listen to a replay of the last Council meeting, when the commission was discussed.
Theresa Defino April 14, 2012 at 07:29 PM
It's completely clear in her own words: “Both of these things can take place, if the council is interested, without even having a charter commission review,” she said. Her comments implied she was doing everyone a favor by having the commission.
Rocky April 24, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Not sure why we go the process of a Commission if the members of the Commission are people who are appointed by the M&C and will represent the views of their "sponsors" . Why doesn't the M&C show some leadership and introduce the changes they want and go through the public hearing process and then take a vote. We save a lot of staff time and money and get to the same conclusion.
Peter Mork April 24, 2012 at 01:43 AM
If, in fact, the commission is formed based on personal networks (as seems to currently be the case), then I agree with your assessment. The process serves only to provide the illusion of citizen involvement. However, if the M&C were to request applications from the citizenry in general and select people based on apolitical criteria, then the commission could serve two roles: a) it would legitimately constitute citizen involvement and b) it would provide the M&C with a wider range of perspectives so that their decisions (regarding the charter) will be better informed. Based on what we've seen so far, I am not sanguine.
Saul Parker April 24, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Tsk, tsk, just let the politicians be politicians ........ it's what they do, n'est ce pas? '
Theresa Defino April 24, 2012 at 10:50 AM
I encourage all to consider and support our position on this. http://rockville.patch.com/articles/rockville-community-coalition-open-charter-commission-s-appointment-process


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