Howard County Panel Considers Increased Membership for County Council

The Howard County Charter Review Commission recently met to discuss the county’s growing population and its impact on determining what the best size council is for a still-growing county.  As reported by The Baltimore Sun, the five member council  has remained the same size since it creation in 1969.  With the population having grown five-fold since then, the Charter Review Commission considered whether the council should grow to seven members or have the part-time legislator position turn into a full-time commitment.

“The idea is we want to make sure the position is attractive to those who have other careers,” said County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat, after speaking to the commission at a meeting in the George Howard Building on Wednesday morning. “In Howard County, standards are high. We want to make sure we can provide the level of constituent service that people expect.”

The commission also agreed to discuss whether the minimum number of signatures required to petition a government action to referendum should change from the 5,000 qualified voters established with the original charter. The charter calls for 5,000 or 5 percent of registered voters, whichever is less. If the minimum requirement were 5 percent, a petition drive would now need nearly 9,000 valid signatures to succeed. In 1970, it took only 1,189 voters’ signatures to get a referendum.

The idea of switching to 5 percent was recommended by the last charter commission in 2004, but it did not attract the four County Council votes needed to place it on the ballot.

The 2004 commission rejected the idea of enlarging the council, a move that one current commission member, former 14-year councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican from West Friendship, has said he feels should wait until the next review in 2019.

Watson said expanding the council is not the only way to solve the growing constituent workload, but it is worth discussing, Each council member now has one full-time special assistant for help.

Watson said expanding the council is not the only way to solve the growing constituent workload, but it is worth discussing, Each council member now has one full-time special assistant for help.

Commission member Michael Davis, a Columbia lawyer, asked if an expanded council should mean expansion to seven smaller individual districts or election of two at-large council members. The district system began in the mid 1980s.

Watson said there are pros and cons to each idea.

To read more on this story, click here.

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