In a narrow vote, the Prince George’s County Council has voted against allowing virtual participation and attendance, which was used by all council members during the pandemic.
The measure was sponsored by Council Vice President Wala Blegay (D-District 6) and Council member Ed Burroughs (D-District 8).
This vote was particularly contentious, as Council member Krystal Oriadha (D-District 7) is expecting a child this fall and has been hospitalized multiple times during her tenure. While some bills have passed the council unanimously, such as Council member Jolene Ivey’s (D–District 5) universal home design bill and Burrough’s bill to require credit card prices be displayed at gas stations, this was not the first bill to fail due to a tie when a member was absent or abstained.
“That’s the rules! And now we’re at a point where people want to change the rules. I mean we’re close to the end of this session, let’s keep moving,” said Council member At-Large Calvin Hawkins (D) during the debate. Hawkins noted that the Council, a body of 11, had been made into “a council of 6” since the new members were sworn in last year and accused them of bullying the minority bloc.
Council member Wanika Fisher (D, District 2) noted that a colleague in the General Assembly who gave birth and was on crutches during the legislative session was not extended the option of remote work.
“If I don’t have the ability to attend, then my community loses their vote, they lose their voice and I think every single council member, whether you agree or disagree with their stance on a bill, should have the opportunity to vote,” said Oriadha. “I could honestly be okay if the conversation was really about the principle around should we have proxy votes, should people be able to vote virtually – but not when it’s simply an attack, and you’re using the situation for a political grab.”
Oriadha held back tears in an interview with Tracee Wilkins and acknowledged her fears about her pregnancy after the vote failed. Burroughs expressed his disappointment with his colleagues following the vote.
Hawkins, Fisher, Mel Franklin, Ingrid Harrison Watson, and Sydney Harrison voted against the measure, while Oriadha, Blegay, Burroughs, Tom Dernoga and Eric Olson supported it. Ivey was absent due to illness and missed the vote.
In January, the Montgomery County Council passed new procedures allowing virtual attendance and participation. According to NBC 4, Council Chair Dernoga will extend the Council calendar later into November to give Oriadha additional time to recover and attend Council meetings.
Organizers planned for dozens of women and allies to make their voices heard at the County Council building on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Bowie activist Milly Hall, former School Board member Belinda Queen and members of the Maryland Business-Clergy Partnership all encouraged concerned residents to attend the protest.
“Yes, I believe virtual voting should be allowed. The pandemic proved that it’s not only safer, green, and saves taxpayers’ money, but provides an alternative way for the county to continue to do business. It provided a means to an end. And for working parents, who’s constantly multi-tasking, a way to balance work and home,” said Lisa Ellis of the Maryland Business-Clergy Partnership.
“I believe virtual voting would encourage more women, especially young Black women, to run for public office and help eradicate systematic ills in politics,” Ellis continued. “We can not let Black mothers be treated like this in office, we cannot set a standard in Prince George’s that Black mothers will not be supported or heard.”