As Rockville’s election season warms up for Mayor and Council candidates, some people want voters to remember that proposed changes to the city’s charter will also be on the ballot.
Rockville last year convened a Charter Review Commission to study the city’s charter, which provides the basis for its laws and election procedures. The commission recommended several changes, which will be on the November ballot as advisory referenda.
Susan Hoffmann and Steven VanGrack, both former mayors and members of the Rockville Charter Review Commission, recently co-authored a position paper in support of the commission’s recommended changes to the charter. They said they hoped to generate more interest in the charter questions before campaign season gets into full swing.
“You don’t want to minimize the importance of the election — because the election certainly chooses your leaders for the next two years — but this is really changing the constitution of the city, and it will have a far more lasting impact on the city and how the city is operated in the future,” VanGrack said.
The Charter Review Commission recommended adding two councilmember seats to the city council; holding elections every four years instead of every two years; and holding city elections at the same time as presidential elections.
VanGrack and Hoffmann wrote that longer terms of office would give newly elected officials more time to build relationships and gain knowledge while letting them spend less time campaigning. They also wrote that adding two councilmembers to the current five would make it easier for individual residents to engage directly with their elected officials.
In rescheduling elections to coincide with presidential elections, the two wrote that the city could save money while increasing turnout.
The overarching goal of the commission’s recommendations, Hoffmann said, was to get more voter turnout and participation in government.
“Usually turnout for municipal elections is so small that it’s less representational than one would like,” Hoffmann said. “... We do not hear from the vast majority of our voters.”
The commission presented its recommendations in December. In March, a community group held a forum to debate pros and cons of the proposed changes. VanGrack said some other neighborhood groups have also discussed the upcoming referenda vote, but many people still don’t know they will be asked to weigh in on changing the charter when they go to the polls.
“We wanted to bring it to the attention of the voters before the election,” he said.
The proposed changes are on the ballot as advisory referenda, which means they will not automatically go into effect. The Mayor and Council have the final say on any changes to the charter.
Election Day is Nov. 5.