BY KRISSI HUMBARD — After a long debate to choose the executive committee at the first council meeting of the newly elected council on May 15, a curve ball was thrown.
Newly elected Council Vice President Thomas Wright (Ward 3) announced his resignation from the position at the June 5 council meeting.
“I didn’t intend to approach this process lightly and I sincerely regret that there are factors that I should have realized before considering the acceptance of a nomination with such glowing accolades from my colleague Mr. Solomon,” Wright wrote in a statement he sent to Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and his council colleagues.
“Nonetheless, after learning more about this role and what is at stake, I recognize my own limitations and it is clearly beyond my current capacity and fortitude to serve in this role at this time,” he continued.
Councilmembers then had to go through the process of choosing another council vice president. At the May 15 meeting, councilmembers raised concerns about the election process. Councilmember Shani Warner (Ward 2) said every time she’s been through the election process, “it has been a nightmare.”
“We ask new councilmembers to immediately pick sides, without a real discussion about the role of the executive committee, what we want the council president and vice president to do, the qualifications and the abstract that we think are desired … and so traditionally this has turned into a divisive vote,” Warner said.
When it came time to vote in a new council vice president, Councilmember Kevin Ward (Ward 1) and Warner were considered for the position. The discussion was less contentious than that of May 15, with no insults or accusations hurled around the dais, and both candidates giving the other praise. Ward won the vote and was elected council vice president.
Citing discussions at the May 15 meeting and personal experience, Mayor Hollingsworth introduced two charter amendments to deal with the process of electing a council president and vice president at the June 5 meeting.
The first amendment would modify C2-3 of the Hyattsville Charter and Code to provide for the selection of president and vice president of the council no later than the third Monday of July in each election year. Council would have the option to wait two meetings after new councilmembers are sworn in before filling the executive committee positions.
Most councilmembers seemed to agree that some change to the process was needed. And most who spoke seemed to think having some time after new members are sworn in and when the executive committee is chosen would be beneficial.
Calling the process a bit awkward, Carrianna Suiter (Ward 3) said, “as a new member … I think the addition of some time would be helpful.”
As for the “how” part of the equation, Hollingsworth suggested the charter be modified to allow councilmembers to hold up to three administrative meetings — closed to the public, which is allowed under the Maryland Open Meetings Act — to discuss candidates and come to a consensus before bringing the item to the dais. The vote would still happen at a public meeting.
Warner said she was happy to be having the discussion about the charter changes. But she expressed concern about holding the meetings behind closed doors. “I really think it’s important that this process be public. And I know it’s been ugly, and I know, at times, it’s been embarrassing … but I think it’s important for the public to have insight into this process.”
“There’s a level of accountability in having these conversations in public that, to me, is really an essential part of the process and I would like to see that continue,” Warner added.
Councilmembers Joseph Solomon (Ward 5) and Wright also expressed concern about the closed meetings.
Mayor Hollingsworth explained her reasoning for making the meetings private: “ … I was under the impression that one of the things we were trying to preserve by putting a process around this was the appearance or illusion of cohesion, and professionalism and decorum.”
Councilmember Bart Lawrence (Ward 1) said he’d need to think on the amendments a bit more, but added, “I’m not sure I see the benefit of making [the meetings] public and I don’t see the harm, necessarily, in making those administrative meetings. … I think there’s a lot to be said to preserve that public face of decorum.”
Two residents spoke against the proposed charter amendments, citing the potential for “a gap in leadership” if the vote is put off more than one meeting.
The charter amendments are scheduled for action at the July 17 meeting.