GAITHERSBURG –Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council on Monday discussed a number of proposed amendments to the city’s charter, voicing unanimous support for an amendment to modify the requirement for residency in the city for those seeking election.
Under current law, mayoral candidates must reside in Gaithersburg for at least one year prior to the election. City council candidates are only required to reside in the city on the day of the election, meaning that a candidate could theoretically move to Gaithersburg the day before Election Day and still win office.
The proposed change would extend the one-year residency requirement to city council candidates.
Under current law, the mayor of Gaithersburg, while nominally serving as President of the five-member City Council, has no voting authority. A proposed amendment would allow the mayor to vote in the event of a tie, as is the case in several other Maryland municipalities, such as Frederick, Kensington, and College Park.
“I think for our current situation, with Henry out of commission for a time, it makes sense,” Ashman said at a planning retreat held at the Benjamin Gaither Center, referring to Council member Henry Marraffa, who has been absent from meetings for several weeks while undergoing treatment for leukemia.
“I generally don’t support charter amendments to address specific situations,” said Council member Ryan Spiegel. “There are other ways to deal with the problem.”
“I would support it in circumstances where the fifth member has recused himself or abstained, making it clear that it’s by their volition that they’ve removed themselves from the process,” said Council member Robert Wu.
“What I’d want to avoid, and I’m not suggesting that this would actually happen, is a circumstance where you schedule a vote on something when you know a council member who doesn’t like it won’t be at the meeting, and then the mayor would have the yea or nay power there. I think there is potential for gamesmanship.”
An amendment proposed by former Council member Cathy Drzyzgula before her retirement last year to change the City Council to a district-based rather than an at-large system of representation, met with opposition from the council.
“I’m really not comfortable with that,” said Council member Neil Harris.
“We had a bad experience trying to go to a districting system in the Kentlands. While we need more completion for election to seats in the city, if we go to a districting system, we’re liable to have some sort of competition in some districts, and no competition in others, which depresses voting and reduces the chance that you’ll have the best quality people on the council. I understand the concern that some areas of the city are more represented than others, but I really don’t think this is the best approach to solving that issue.”
“I think this is a solution in search of a problem,” said Spiegel. “We’d also face a challenge in figuring out how to draw districts. I think this would also lead to a discussion of whether we’d need to increase the size of the council and add additional members. I think the size of our council is good and allows for efficient administration in government.”
“I think the fact that we have to run city-wide forces us to develop a platform that the entire city agrees with,” said Council Vice President Michael Sesma. “I don’t think we’re ready for districts.”