Residents seek changes to Greenbelt’s all at-large council system -- Gazette.Net


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Greenbelt has a city election Nov. 5, but some residents don’t expect much change as they say the electoral system keeps the same people in office.

Greenbelt’s seven council seats — including the mayor — are at-large, meaning that all voters can vote for up to seven candidates.

“What does the president get? Two terms? I feel the same should be for the council as well,” said central Greenbelt resident Floretta Freeman. “I have nothing against them personally, but I think other people should have a chance in office.”

Greenbelt is the only one of the five largest municipalities in Prince George’s County to use an all at-large system.

Laurel, College Park, Hyattsville and Bowie all employ district representation, or a mix of district and at-large seats.

This year, the seven incumbent council members — Mayor Judith “J” Davis, Konrad Herling, Emmett Jordan, Leta Mach, Silke Pope, Edward Putens and Rodney Roberts — are all seeking re-election.

Two challengers, Susan Stewart and William “Bill” Orleans, are also seeking a seat on the council.

In the 2011 election, approximately 14.7 percent of Greenbelt’s registered voters turned out to the polls to send all seven incumbents back to the council. Orleans was the sole challenger.

The longest-serving current council member is Putens, who was first elected to the council in 1981 and has served continuously.

“After four years, they should get cut off. Give somebody else a chance,” said Stephanie Fielder, another central Greenbelt resident.

Greenbelt voters also do not vote for mayor as according to the Greenbelt Charter, the council elects the mayor and mayor pro tem from among its members.

While the council has traditionally elected the highest vote-getter mayor and the second-highest mayor pro tem, there is no requirement in the charter for the council to do so.

“I was mistaken. I thought we elected seven people and the one with the most votes got to be mayor. I always felt it was best to vote for just one person, which would be J Davis,” said Greenbelt East resident Richard “Rich” Storty. “They’re all going to get in anyway. They’ve been in, they’ll get in, and they do a fine job. It’s just that I felt I was selecting the mayor, by voting for only one candidate.”

Davis has been elected by the council to serve as Greenbelt’s mayor since 1997.

In 2008, the Prince George’s County NAACP challenged Greenbelt’s at-large system, noting that no minorities had ever been elected to the City Council. In 2009, the council increased its seats from five to seven, and Jordan was elected as the council’s first and to date the only black council member.

Prince George’s NAACP president Bob Ross said his organization is still concerned about voter rights in Greenbelt and would like to see more at-large representation.

Polls open at Greenbelt’s five polling sites from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 5.

Early voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Schrom Hills Park, 6915 Hanover Parkway; from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 26 and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Springhill Lake Recreation Center, 6101 Cherrywood Lane, and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all other weekdays at the Greenbelt Municipal Building, 25 Crescent Road.

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net