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Hyattsville debates leadership reform as VP resigns

HyattsvilleMayorHYATTSVILLE – Closed meetings to elect council leadership may be a possibility as the Hyattsville City Council considers changes to the city charter regarding how the body elects its leadership.

On June 5, Mayor Candace Hollingsworth brought two discussion items before the council regarding how the council chooses its president and vice-president after, earlier in the meeting, newly-elected Council Vice-President Thomas Wright announced his resignation from that post.

Wright said that, although he received numerous accolades from his colleagues, after much thought he had decided to resign from the position due to being “stretched by day-to-day living” and being cognizant of his health.

“It’s often difficult for me to say no to a commitment, especially if it’s possible to be a positive influence on the outcome,” Wright said. “Nonetheless, after learning more about this role and what’s at stake, I recognize my own limitations and it’s clearly beyond my current capacity and fortitude to serve in this role at this time.”

Wright resigned just one meeting after being elected to the position, but said he chose to do so at this time because he felt it was better to do so now rather than later.

“It is in my mind better to do this now before getting further entrenched in the executive duties of this office,” he said.

Later that meeting Kevin Ward, a Ward 1 councilman, was elected vice-president after a 7-3 victory over Ward 2 Councilwoman Shani Warner. Warner had nominated herself for the role, saying she fully expected Ward to win, but wanted to express a desire to be part of council leadership.

“I think Kevin will do a terrific job. I fully expect him to win this and he has my full support. I think he has the qualities that I think are important,” she said.

This shakeup in council leadership put a spotlight on an issue Hollingsworth said she has noticed over the past several councils. She said the charter amendment change would address time constraints the council faces when electing its leadership.

Hollingsworth’s suggested revision would allow up to two meetings for the council to elect its leadership, meaning it would have until July to do so. As it stands currently, the council elects its leadership on the same day that the new members are sworn in.

One of the two newest members to the council, Ward 3’s Carrianna Suiter, said extra time would be a benefit, especially for new members.

“I think the addition of some time will be helpful,” she said. “It does put new members in a bit of an awkward position to get sworn in and then 15 minutes later vote for or against their new colleagues that we’re really trying to build relationships with.”

Hollingsworth said the charter amendment would determine “the when” regarding election of leaderships, but there may still need to be some changes to “the how.” While, she said, she’s not sure if qualifications of leadership need to be set in stone, she believes there should be a change to the process of nomination and, ultimately, election.

Those changes she proposed in the form of amendments of the Rules of Procedure regarding the selection of officers. The mayor suggested that the Maryland Open Meetings Act gives the city the ability to hold up to three closed meetings or work sessions regarding council leadership and that the council should do so.

“I was under the impression that one of the things we were trying to preserve by putting a process around this was also the appearance or illusion of cohesion and professionalism and decorum,” she said. “Using that as a guideline, I thought ‘okay how can we do this and still allow people the opportunity to say what they need to say?’”

The council debated the issue for almost an hour as several members questioned closing the meetings.

Warner opposed closing council leadership meetings to the public. Warner said she loved that the council is considering addressing this “nightmare,” but said she thinks the public process should be preserved. Two members of the public spoke out against the changes as well, especially against making the meetings closed.

Hollingsworth said there is no hurry to push forward with changes to the procedure, but said she would like to see this issued resolved and behind the council.

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