The 2019-2020 Charter Review Commission in Howard County released their final report, recommendations and advisory notes (document shared by Dr. Chao Wu on his blog). The Commission agreed on nine (9) recommendations. One of those recommendations is “The Commission recommends expanding the County Council from five members to seven members, comprising seven individually-elected districts.”
Here are the details of that recommendation in the report:
RECOMMENDATION #1 – Increase Council from 5 to 7 members
The Commission recommends expanding the County Council from five members to seven members, comprising seven individually-elected districts.
We noted several reasons for this expansion. First, we note that under the current Council structure, each member represents approximately 66,000 people. This number is substantially less than other counties in Maryland, such as Montgomery, where each district represents an average of nearly 200,000 members. However, the average across Maryland counties is approximately 33,000 persons per legislature member. Presently, each district is larger than the entire population of Howard County when the charter form of government was adopted in 1968. Increasing the Council will bring members closer to their districts and in line with the rest of the state, allowing for better support for constituents and their needs. Further, we note that the geographic and cultural diversity of Howard County could be better represented with two more County Council members allowing for districts that represent constituent groups more directly. The Commission received this suggestion more than any other at its public hearings. A map provided by Steven Wilson at the October 24, 2019 public hearing shows his recommendation of the new Councilmanic Districts.
We have identified some drawbacks to this proposal. We believe the biggest drawback is the increased cost. The Commission notes there are increased staffing and subsidiary costs to increasing the number of members of the Council. We have also noted that certain aspects of state law, especially the structure of the Board of Education of Howard County, is dependent upon the current five district structure. Accordingly, any change to the district structure of the Howard County Council would require accompanying changes in state law.
Finally, we note that the current time is an excellent time to make this change. With the 2020 Census occurring now and the results pending, the County Council is required to appoint a Councilmanic Redistricting Commission in 2021 to redraw the district lines. Whether there are five or seven districts, this process happens automatically, and the Redistricting Commission will have to complete this task regardless. In addition, as any Charter revision requires voter approval at a general election, the 2020 General Election can set this stage and the pieces follow on simply and easily with the new Census and new districts, which would then be effective for the 2022 election cycle, if the Council were to approve this recommendation. Note that the Commission discussed, but did not support, the addition of any at-large Council members.
Section 202. – The County Council.
The legislative power of the County is vested in the County Council of Howard County which shall consist of
five SEVEN members who shall be elected from the Councilmanic Districts.
Here is a look at the current districts in Howard County:
Here is the map provided in the document (provided by Steve Wilson in 2019):
I like the idea “if” Howard County expands the County Council from five members to seven members that is it done by seven individually-elected districts and not by adding two at-large Council members.
Of course like everything…the devil is in the details. I do not have the specific data related to those lines drawn in the map above (which is only a suggestion by a member of the community) and I would hope that the Redistricting Commission in Howard County draws the lines in a logical way and not the way most political lines in the state of Maryland are drawn today.
What do you think…is it time for Howard County to expand the council to seven members? Let me know in the comments.
One last question…if this moves forward how would this affect the Howard County Board of Education (HoCoBOE). We JUST got that switched for candidates to be elected by district (for 5 members of the board). Should we look to expand the HoCoBOE by adding 2 additional members in the future or remove the at large elections for the two other HoCoBOE members and move those to by district as well? Something to think about as part of this discussion.
You can view additional information on the 2019-2020 Charter Review Commission (including Commission meetings and public hearings) here: https://cc.howardcountymd.gov/About-Us/Commissions-Task-Forces-and-Special-Reports/Charter-Review-Commission-2019-2020