Prince George's County Councilman Obie Patterson /Courtesy of Prince George's Government
Prince George's County Councilman Obie Patterson /Courtesy of Prince George's Government

On Election Day, about 66 percent of Prince George’s County voters approved to add two members to the nine-member council in 2018.

But instead of representing a particular district, the additions would be at-large members to oversee construction, recreation and other topics countywide. If elected in two years, they would begin a six-year term in January 2019.

In fact, five council members whose terms expire in 2018 can run for the six-year, at-large seats. In effect, that person could serve on council for up to 16 years.

“It was the right thing in the eyes of the public,” said Councilman Obie Patterson (D-District 8) of Fort Washington, one of the five council members whose term expires in two years. “We have to respect the wishes of the voters. The voters have spoken and it is time to govern ourselves accordingly.”

Patterson hasn’t dismissed running for one of the at-large seats himself.

“I’m not ruling anything out,” he said.

The other four council members whose terms expire in 2018 are Mel Franklin (D-District 9) of Upper Marlboro, Andrea Harrison (D-District 5) of Springdale, Mary Lehman (D-District 1) of Laurel and Karen Toles (D-District 7) of Suitland.

Larry Stafford, executive director of the grass-roots organization Progressive Maryland of Silver Spring, said he will help the Prince George’s chapter find candidates to challenge those who want to extend “their political careers.”

“We need council members who are thinking about the constituents,” he said. “We want progressive members who support $15 an hour minimum wage [and] summer youth programs. We need fresh blood.”

Prince George’s remains the only council in the metropolitan region with no at-large representation.

The county’s neighbors in the District, Montgomery County and Alexandria, Virginia, have some at-large members. All the council members in Alexandria are at-large and have been that way for at least four decades.

Some voters didn’t fully understand the council proposal labeled “Question D,” including Joan Baggage of Landover, who left it blank.

After she voted for Clinton and the other Democratic candidates, she received a brief summary on the proposal and how it could cost up to $1 million to fund the positions and staff.

“We have other things we could do with that million dollars,” she said.

Voters were mailed and were handed at polling places several sample Democratic ballots.

The Committee for ReCharge At-Large that received funding from local developers distributed its ballot to approve the measure. According to the group’s website, at-large systems create a more regional focus, avoid parochialism and improve constituent services.

Some who supported the council expansion included County Executive Rushern L. Baker; David Harrington, president of the county’s Chamber of Commerce; and M. H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable.

Local activists and grassroots organizations produced one against the measure. Opponents say since a current council member could run for the at-large seats, it goes against the spirit of the term-limits law passed more than 20 years ago, including in the election two years ago to reject extending them from two to three.

Those in agreement include school board member Edward Burroughs III, who won re-election; Theresa Dudley, president of the county’s Educators Association; and Brandon Cooper, executive vice chairman of the county’s Republican party.

The Democratic Central Committee usually prints, distributes and issues one sample ballot that lists its choices for the best candidates and referendum questions.

Because the group couldn’t fully agree on the council expansion plan, it decided not to produce a sample ballot, said Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan, a member of the committee. He declined to give his stance on the at-large plan.

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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