BY CAROLINE SELLE — On November 4, Prince George’s County voters will answer a total of ten County-specific questions on the gubernatorial election ballot. Though most of the questions deal with setting new limits as to how much the County can borrow for bonds to finance facilities like fire stations, libraries, and public works, one question has gained a lot of attention: term limits.
Come election day, voters will decide whether the maximum consecutive term limit for County elected officials should be extended from two to three.
Term limits were instituted in Prince George’s County in 1992, and voters upheld the two-term limit in 2000. According to the Washington Post, allowing only two consecutive terms is rare in the Washington metro area. Only three other Maryland counties — St. Mary’s, Anne Arundel, and Howard — have such restrictions.
County Executive Rushern Baker spearheaded the campaign to end term limits back in 2000 and has been supportive of this latest initiative. Several other prominent local politicians have come out in support of the referendum, including Deni Taveras.
After winning the primary by six votes, Taveras is running unopposed for the District 2 seat recently vacated by Will Campos on the County Council.
“At this time I’m in favor of the change,” she said. Elected officials need time to familiarize themselves with government processes in order to achieve their goals. “I can appreciate the concern folks have with the term limits, but I can also appreciate the need to extend term limits by one,” she said.
Hyattsville City Council member Shani Warner (Ward 2) said she is wary about extending term limits given the County’s history. “There are certain bad actors who you get into certain positions,” she said, “and…because it’s a predominantly Democratic community it’s really hard to get someone out if they’re a bad actor. It’s not like we have a lot of competition from Republicans for these positions.”
Voters will also determine whether the County will prohibit discrimination based on disability or sexual orientation amongst its employees.
Since 2001, state law has protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation. A law protecting gender identity was passed in May 2014 and took effect on October 1.
“There are two important reasons why [the County would] want to have it in their personnel manual,” said Hyattsville City Council member Patrick Paschall (Ward 2). The first is to put employees “on notice” — to remind them that of what the law actually is.
Even though disability and sexual orientation are protected at the state level, “The other reason that it’s important to have these protections at the local level is so there’s a formal mechanism by which people can appeal or file complaints about discrimination they’ve experienced,” Paschall said.
Paschall said he wishes the County were including gender identity and marital status in the referendum. Hyattsville was one of the first Maryland jurisdictions to protect against discrimination based on gender identity.
“We got out ahead of the state in extending certain protections to transgender individuals. I applaud the county for catching up, for realizing that this is important as an issue,” said Warner.
Additional County specific questions will address how to fill a vacancy in the County Executive’s office and whether the number of “designated newspapers of record” will change from three to “one or more.”
To vote on November 4, individuals must register to vote by Tuesday, October 14. A sample ballot can be viewed at http://www.elections.state.md.us/. For coverage of the primary election, visit HyattsvilleLife.com and search for “Primary.”