Rockville shifts its officials to four-year terms -- Gazette.Net


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This story was corrected on July 16, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

With supporters saying the change would help officials and staff better carry out their roles, Rockville’s mayor and City Council narrowly approved an amendment to the city’s charter to extend the length of officials’ terms from two to four years.

The new rule will take effect with the next city elections in 2015, after supporters rejected an amendment that would have put off the change until 2019 to help offset concerns that it would give the incumbents too much of an advantage.

The measure passed 3-2, with Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Councilwomen Beryl L. Feinberg and Virginia D. Onley in favor, and Councilwoman Julie Palakovich Carr and Councilman Tom Moore opposed.

In November, voters approved a nonbinding referendum approving the change, while rejecting other measures to increase the number of council members from four to six and to move the city’s elections to coincide with the presidential election calendar.

Feinberg said the longer terms would give elected officials a chance to learn more about governing and to work with staff to ease the transition when a new official comes aboard.

“There is a steep learning curve. I would be the first to acknowledge that,” said Feinberg, who was elected to the council in November.

Newton said she believes it would be far better for staff to have a mayor and council with more time to build relationships and get more involved in understanding the details of running the city.

Onley, who also was elected in November, said she has run three times in four years and has had to already think about running for re-election.

“I feel like I’m the expert on running for office,” she said.

She said officials need more time to settle into their office.

But Palakovich Carr — who, like Feinberg and Onley was elected in November — said she wasn’t convinced the change is best for the city.

She worried about lower voter turnout and that longer terms could disenfranchise some voters by making elections a less regular part of the city’s calendar.

There’s also the potential for costly special elections if a council member or mayor should have health or family problems that require them to leave office, she said.

Elections also are a strong incentive for officials to listen to voters’ concerns, Palakovich Carr said.

Moore said increasing the length of terms gives incumbents a strong advantage, and that two-year elections give voters a more regular opportunity to get rid of politicians they want out.

He pointed to the recent Democratic primary, when all the incumbents in the county seeking re-election won their races.

“The power of incumbency is incredibly powerful,” Moore said.

Not if incumbents don’t support policies the voters favor, Feinberg said.

“We have to perform,” she said.

Explanation: The original version incorrectly reported Tom Moore’s comment about the winners in the recent Democratic primary. He was referring to all incumbents, not just County Council incumbents.

rmarshall@gazette.net