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By Neal Earley @neal_earley
ROCKVILLE — With less than a month to go before Rockville Council member Julie Palakovich Carr leaves her seat on the Council to be sworn in as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, the city has to figure out a process to replace her.
Under the City’s charter, since Palakovich Carr is leaving her seat with fewer than 12 months to go before the City election in November 2019, she will be replaced by a choice from the Mayor and Council.
Monday night’s hearing on an ordinance and two amendments to the City’s charter that will solidify the process to change the City’s charter was an opportunity for residents to weigh in on the process.
If passed, the proposal on the table for public discussion Monday night, would solidify the timeframe that the Mayor and Council has to fill a chose a replacement or to hold a special election to fill the vacancy.
The public hearing became an opportunity for residents to discuss the process for choosing a replacement for Palakovich Carr.
The requirement for the next Council member is that they have been a registered voter in the City of Rockville for at least one year, meaning a huge pool of people could potentially wind up in the position. Whoever does replace her on the Council will need majority approval from the Mayor and Council, at least three votes.
Richard Gottfried, who previously ran for Rockville City Council in 2015, proposed that the Mayor and Council should select the next Council member from a pool of candidates that have already run for the Council because they would have some legitimacy from the public.
Gottfried, who finished fifth in the last election for City Council in 2015, would stand to directly benefit from his suggestion to have the pool of candidates be narrowed down to people who only have previously run for City Council.
Gottfried worried that there could be a 2-2 tie on the Mayor and Council with Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council member Beryl Feinberg on one side and Council member Virginia Onley and Mark Pierzchala on the other side. Palakovich Carr makes up the third member of Team Rockville with Onley and Pierzchala meaning there could be a long protracted fight for the swing vote on the Mayor and Council.
The political split on the Mayor and Council cud heighten the importance of narrowing the process for selecting a replacement council member. While the person who will replace Palakovich Carr will only serve long enough to finish her term which ends in 2019, depending on who is selected to fill the vacancy, it could change political dynamics in the City.
“The voters will know that the two teams sitting at the dais are looking out for themselves to obtain their third vote without regard for the City of Rockville voters’ wishes,” Gottfried said.
Newton suggested that the City of Gaithersburg, which has recently gone through the process of replacing members of its city council, has a fair process Rockville can copy.
In Gaithersburg candidates would make a speech in a public meeting and then the Mayor and Council would get a chance to interview the candidates in a closed session that is not public.
Newton said that after speaking with Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, Gaithersburg’s process is possibly a model for Rockville.
“An unintended consequence would be an unfair advantage to those who could hear,” Newton said.
John Chu, a resident of the City who said he is considering putting his name forward to be on the Council, said in the name of fairness the Mayor and Council could interview candidates one by one in a public forum. That process Chu, argued would be the most fair way, as no candidate would be given a leg up.
“You can give the same set of questions to each candidate. Each candidate would be hearing the questions for the first time and there’s really no bias there,” Chu said.
Rockville resident Noreen Bryan, questioned the process for choosing a new council member public, meaning it could be unfair as the candidate that goes last could hear what all the previous candidates have said.
“It gives the person who is interviewed last a distinct advantage over the person who is interviewed first or second,” Bryan said.
Palakovich Carr contended that the order in which applicants are interviewed could be randomized, to make the process as fair as possible, and it being open to the public is preferable to the way the City used to do it behind closed doors.