The 12 members of Rockville’s Charter Review Commission will be busy for the next month.
The commission has a Dec. 15 deadline to tell the Rockville Mayor and Council what changes they should consider making to the city’s charter — the “constitution” that covers things like elections, the role of the mayor and the number of councilmembers.
During a Nov. 9 meeting, commissioners divvied up the work before them into five areas: terms of office, when to hold elections, the number of councilmembers, at-large versus district representation and new types of voting. They also heard from City Manager Barbara B. Matthews, who shared her experiences working for different types of city governments in Missouri and elsewhere in Maryland.
Low voter turnout is a challenge in most communities, Matthews said. In some small municipalities, an incumbent running unopposed might receive only 60 to 75 votes.
The current commission began meeting in July. The last charter review took place in 2002, and that commission recommended changing the number of signatures needed to generate a voter-initiated advisory referendum and increasing the mayor and councilmembers terms from two to four years. The Mayor and Council currently serve two-year terms.
During the month of October, the commission hosted a series of town hall meetings for residents to share their thoughts on possible charter revisions. Susan Hoffmann, a member of the commission and former Rockville mayor, said low voter turnout was a recurring concern from those who spoke during the town hall meetings.
“Everyone seemed to be interested in trying to get more people to vote,” she said. “That seemed to be one of the constants.”
Voting changes the commission may consider include early voting, holding elections on Saturdays and granting voting privileges to resident aliens.
Hoffmann said the town hall attendees tended to differ more on things like the length of terms and whether to hold elections on even years, at the same time as federal elections, or odd years, as Rockville currently does.
Matthews said longer terms for the mayor and councilmembers can help with continuity, but it is also a bigger commitment for candidates to take on. Matthews said two-year terms can pose a challenge for city managers, especially if the whole council runs for re-election at the same time. New councilmembers have to contend with a learning curve, she said, and people start thinking about running for re-election after only about a year in office.
In the coming weeks, the commission expects to hear from Claire Funkhouser, former Rockville city clerk, and Gaithersburg officials. The next meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15.
People can submit comments for the commission through Nov. 30 to firstname.lastname@example.org; the City Clerk’s Office, 111 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Md., 20850; or by calling 240-314-8282.