Two More Council Members Is Not What We Need

In 2014, once again, Prince George’s County voters rejected a term limit extension for our County Council members. Apparently the desire of current Council members to stay on is very strong, as the County Council is considering to place a referendum item on the November ballot to create two new, at-large Council seats. Information on the proposal can be found in a recent Washington Post article. Resident response to the proposal was not very positive, as is reflected in a Sentinel article about a July 11 public hearing on the matter.

In my view, more Council members is not what we need. My testimony at the July 11 hearing outlines my thoughts on the kind of electoral reform we do need:

Good evening,

My name is Tommi Makila. I live in Accokeek. I am a community activist, past PTA president, and current HOA president, but I am speaking as an individual tonight.

I am strongly opposed to the current proposal to add two at-large members to the Council. Knowing this Council’s history of pushing for extension of term limits, this is another obvious attempt to give some of you additional time on the Council. The self-serving nature of the proposal is so glaring that I don’t need to dwell on the issue. If the Council really feels that there is some merit in creating at-large council seats, those seats should be created by reducing the number of district council seats so as to make the proposal budget neutral.

I can see the reason why you all feel that you deserve more time on the Council. I believe the county has been moving in the right direction over the last few years, and the Council has played a role in these positive developments. I want to thank you all for that.

I even agree with you that our electoral system is holding our county back. However, my diagnosis of our problems differs greatly from yours. From where I am sitting, I don’t think our main problem is that you all only get to serve two terms on the Council. From my perspective, the real problem is that our local, down ballot elections are decided by a small circle of our establishment politicians well before any votes are cast. What I’m talking about are the slates and their sample ballots. You all know how that system works. While I don’t know the electoral history of you all, I am fairly certain that most of you can thank an incumbent slate for your seat on the Council. If you are honest, you should be able to admit that the slate was much more likely to be decisive in the race that first put you on the Council than your superior ideas or skills as a candidate when compared to your rivals. No offense to any of you, but this is the sad reality in our county.

What the system of slates and their sample ballots amounts to is machine politics – machine politics at its worst. The stench of backroom dealing to decide our important local elections is bad for us as a county. We residents suffer when our politicians are more accountable to the political establishment than us voters.

So, instead of spending your time and energy trying to find ways to extend your time on the Council, I urge you all to join the fight to change our culture of machine politics. Instead of fighting for this amendment, launch a campaign to unseat a lackluster legislator or other incumbent politician. Since you are current officeholders, you are the ones with the name recognition and track record to successfully challenge other politicians. And, as you wage future political campaigns, take a pledge not to join establishment slates and sample ballots. Instead, be politicians who are accountable only to the voters – not the political machine. Let’s have some real, exciting and competitive elections! That would be very good for our county.

Thank you for your time.

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