Members of the College Park community expressed shock following city officials’ announcement on Friday that a proposed charter amendment, which had appeared to pass Sept. 12, would not be adopted.
The proposed amendment, which would have allowed noncitizens to vote in city elections starting in 2019, didn’t have enough votes. As of June, changes to the city charter require six affirmative votes, but the vote was 4-3 with one abstention.
“I’m shocked that it would have been such a major oversight, that they didn’t realize their own rules,” said Robert O’Brien, a District 1 resident who has lived in College Park for about 27 years. “That being said, I certainly wasn’t in favor of the charter amendment, so I’m happy that it did not take effect.”
O’Brien, an active College Park voter, said the oversight “certainly is going to be a major consideration” when he decides who to vote for in city elections Nov. 7.
“I think that they certainly need to be better educated about their own rules concerning the charter amendment,” O’Brien said. “It’s just amazing that they would go down that road without knowing the requirement.”
District 1 Councilwoman Christine Nagle introduced a charter resolution, which included a provision that would require six votes to pass future charter changes on April 11. It passed unanimously on April 25 and went into effect 50 days later. Nagle also introduced the noncitizens voting measure.
Wojahn said Saturday that a colleague had brought the oversight to his attention Friday afternoon, and confirmed Monday that it was Nagle who brought it to his attention.
“I think we all feel incredibly bad about it, myself included, I’m just sick about it,” Nagle said.
Lindsey Ledford, a District 1 resident who has lived in College Park for more than a year, said she is “pretty pissed off” at the council’s oversight.
“It was such a big deal. It made national news, it was that big of a deal,” Ledford said. “I know, for lack of a better word, shit happens. But that is a colossal fuck-up. That’s what it is.”
“I think they’ve successfully pissed off residents on both sides of the issue. And the fact that they got people’s hopes up, that residents [that are] noncitizens were going to be able to vote, [and] now they’re just dropping it, like, ‘Eh, we’re just not going to go there now,'” Ledford said, noting that she is still in support of the proposed charter amendment and would like it to be revisited.
In this week’s mayoral update, Mayor Patrick Wojahn wrote he would like to “move beyond the proposed charter resolution and pursue other, less divisive, ways to encourage participation by all College Park residents.”
Beth DeBosky, a District 1 resident who has lived in College Park for about 14 years, said she found it “interesting and unbelievable [that] nine career adults, political figures” were not aware of the super majority required to pass the proposed noncitizen voting charter amendment. She noted she is “also excited and happy that the right of voting will stay with the citizens for now.”
“I really think that this whole situation has impressed upon people the importance of participating in their communities and in local government,” DeBosky said. She added that the oversight will affect who she decides to vote for in the upcoming city elections.
Chris Keosian, the council’s student liaison, said it would be an understatement to say he was “quite shocked” Friday night when he heard the news.
“I’ve never thought of us as anything but the highest degree of professional,” said Keosian, who has been part of the city council for nearly two years. “To miss something this big is pretty embarrassing.”
Keosian said it’s important for the city to restore public trust in the council first.
“Obviously, this was a rather contentious issue, and it was going to take some work to reunify [the] council regardless,” he said. “But now, with something like this happening, I think the first priority of the city council has to be to reach out to the community and really work to restore public trust in the council because I think a lot of community members haven’t had the opportunity that I have to see what a professional and caring council we do have.”
The proposed charter amendment, which was first introduced at a June 13 meeting, has garnered controversy among council members, residents and people nationwide. Residents clashed at a July 11 public hearing, and hundreds have sent emails to the council about the amendment. Its supporters say residents who pay local taxes should be allowed to cast a vote, while others say this privilege should be reserved for those who have received U.S. citizenship.
The mayor and council released a statement Saturday where they acknowledged their oversight on the proposed charter amendment with “considerable embarrassment and regret.”
“We each accept our responsibility for not realizing the impact of the June charter amendment on council procedures and we apologize to our residents,” the statement said.
Wojahn also wrote about the oversight in this week’s mayoral update.
“I would like to reiterate my apology to the whole community for our mistake. I like to think that, in making mistakes, we are reminded of our flaws and that it keeps us humble,” Wojahn wrote. “It also reminds us of the constant need to work toward improvement.”
In the update, Wojahn noted he’d like to move on from the noncitizen voting charter amendment and work with the One College Park Coalition to host a forum “for recent immigrants to learn about services available to them and about being a part of the Greater College Park community.”
The forum will be held Sept. 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Davis Hall.
“I hope that we can learn from that and continue to explore ways to become a unified, One College Park,” Wojahn wrote in the update.