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Vote4More - Reasons for 4 More Council Seats

We The People agrees that it is critical to expand the Council but believes that the Council should be expanded to 11 seats.  

 

The reasons for this are straightforward -- because doing so would (1) bring us in line with other Central Maryland counties and (2) inject much-needed diversity of opinion into the Council's decision-making process.

 

Bringing the Council into the Modern Age

When the County's charter was first written in 1955, we had 350,000 residents, meaning each member of the 7-member Council represented only 50,000 residents.  Today, our population has more than doubled (to 856,000), with each Councilperson now representing 125,000 residents.  

 

Once again, other Central Maryland counties have addressed their population growth and recently expanded their council seats.  Baltimore County should bring its Council into the modern age and follow suit.  

 

Indeed, (a) Montgomery County expanded to 11 members to represent 1 million residents (or 90,909 per member), (b) Prince George's County expanded to 11 members to represent 946,971 residents (or 86,088 per member), and (c) Anne Arundel County has 7 members to represent 593,286 residents (or 84,755 per member).  Expanding the Baltimore County Council to 11 members would mean that each Councilmember would represent about 77,818 residents.  This would meaningfully improve the ability of each Councilperson to represent their community while providing some room to accommodate future growth.*

 

Injecting Much-Needed Diversity

Our County has seen a lot of changes since 1955, including an increase in the number of diverse residents.  Indeed, today, nearly half of our residents are Black, brown, Indigenous and other people of color -- and half are women.  However, our Council is composed of seven men, six of them white.  We need to create space for other voices to be heard, particularly where, as here, there are no term limits with respect to our Councilmembers. Simply put, diversity is our County's greatest strength and should be reflected on our Council.

 

Moreover, one of the biggest issues plaguing the Council has been its unbending commitment to "councilmanic courtesy."  On the surface, this courtesy seems innocent -- if an issue specially affects a particular district, then all Councilmembers defer to the Councilperson representing that district.  However, this has led to some of the most egregious actions taken by our County Council in recent memory, including (i) passing an unlawful law to benefit a single developer in Hunt Valley (which County Executive Olszewski vetoed on the grounds that it was unconstitutional) (article) and (ii) approving a development project at the LaFarge Quarry that eventually had to be overturned in the face of overwhelming community opposition (article).

 

As attorney David Plymyer notes (article), this courtesy turns each Councilperson into a "virtual land use czar within his or her own district" and "gives individual members enormous fundraising leverage with builders, developers and others with a stake in what gets approved within their districts."


This practice often means that matters like growth and development -- which, by their nature, specially affect the district in which projects are located -- result in a complete abrogation of power by Councilmembers to one another, even if the project in question could have a profound impact on the County writ large.  This is precisely why the County Executive, at the time of the LaFarge project, cautioned that “we should be looking at these issues holistically,” so that everyone is involved in developing a path forward.

 

Expanding the Council to 11 members promises to make the practice of councilmanic courtesy more difficult to maintain.  Basic principles of sociology show that it is more challenging for groups to vote together in lock-step if they are more diverse and diffuse.

 

Call to Action

So, with all of this in mind, we ask that you sign the Vote4More petition (found here), which will allow such a measure to be placed on the ballot regardless of the action taken by the County Council (which voted only to expand the Council to 9 seats, instead of 11).

 

*Both Montgomery County and Prince George's County have at-large representatives on their councils.

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