ROCKVILLE — On Monday, for the final time, Julie Palakovich Carr took her seat on the Rockville Mayor and Council.
As the two-term council member vacates her seat to start her first term as a state delegate representing District 17, a new search for a replacement begins.
Palakovich Carr’s exit from the Mayor and Council could change the political dynamics in the City. Since she was member of Team Rockville, a political bloc made up of Council Members Mark Pierzchala, Virginia Onley and Palakovich Carr, her exit means they no longer have a majority.
For many issues, that is not a problem. The members of the Mayor and Council all run as non-partisans, and for many issues the votes are unanimous or 4 to 1. But the members of Team Rockville have voted together on a number of key issues, such as the Community Trust Ordinance and legislation on development. Given that some of the votes have been 3-2, Palakovich Carr’s exit from the Council could shift things in the City.
“You know, it’s a five-member body, three votes are what runs it,” Pierzchala said. “You know, at the end of the day we look for good people, people who can assess the situation and know why they are voting the way they are voting.”
With Palakovich Carr gone, there will be several key decisions for the City coming up, and whoever replaces her will have just the remaining months left in her term to serve, as the City will hold elections in November.
Even with the political divides the Mayor and remaining Council members said they are hopeful they will find a new council member that they can all support. Whoever it is, he or she will need the support of at least three of the remaining members of the Mayor and Council. Pierzchala, Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council member Beryl Feinberg have said they believe they can come to an unanimous decision on who their new fifth member will be.
In a few weeks, the Mayor and Council will vote on a proposal to change the City’s adequate public facility ordinance to expand the capacity at Richard Montgomery High School from 120 percent to 150. With a looming moratorium coming for new development in Rockville because of the APFO, Pierzchala has supported lifting the moratorium for development in parts of Rockville, saying it is critical for the City’s economic growth.
While his proposal has the backing of Onley, Newton and Feinberg vehemently oppose the plan, saying that Richard Montgomery is already overcrowded and cannot properly function at 150-percent over capacity.
Since Palakovich Carr is the swing vote, and she has left the Council, it is likely the vote will be two to two, meaning Pierzchala’s proposal will not pass.
While it is unlikely that the Mayor and Council will find a replacement before the vote on changes to the APFO at the end of January, whoever fills Palakovich Carr’s seat will have to vote on many issues, such as the budget.
“I would like a person who is fair-minded, analytical and is not going to succumb [to] politics as this person is serving for a finite period of time during the remainder of this term,” Feinberg said.
To replace Palakovich Carr, the four remaining members of the Mayor and Council will decide by majority vote who will fill her seat, with the only criterion being that the person has been a registered voter in the City of Rockville for at least a year.
After all the prospective candidates submit their applications the Mayor and Council will interview them all on the same day in a public setting. Then, at some point after, they will make their decision, which will have to be done by a majority vote.
Both Pierzchala and Feinberg said they are looking for a well-qualified person to fill the open slot on the Mayor and Council, saying a candidate should have general knowledge of the City and its government functions as well as good morals and ethics.
As the City Charter does not lay out specific criteria other than the requirement for a candidate to be a registered voter in Rockville for at least a year, each member of the Council will have to determine his or her own standard for who qualifies.