College Park: The dumbest town in America?

On Sept. 12, the City Council and mayor of College Park voted to give noncitizens the right to cast a vote in all municipal elections. Some council members suggested that a decision of such import should involve residents, perhaps through a ballot referendum, but the mayor cast his tie-breaking vote against that suggestion. Some council members then suggested that immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally be excluded from the group of noncitizens, but the mayor again cast his tie-breaking vote in opposition to that suggestion.

When the council finally voted on the amendment, four members were in favor of it, three were opposed, and one abstained. The measure passed much to the satisfaction of the mayor and victorious aldermen.

Here in Maryland, about a dozen other municipalities have passed similar legislation in order to allow noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants, to vote in municipal elections. It’s the current liberal thing to do nationwide, and if you are opposed to the idea it indicates that you are a racist or a Nazi or just a really awful person who probably kicks puppies. With passage of the amendment, any undergrad at the University of Maryland on a student visa from God-knows-what country could vote in all municipal elections. (The University of Maryland currently has about 3,600 international students.) It also means that undocumented immigrants flooding local high schools or the unemployed living at home could also vote as long as they were 18 years old and lived in the district. Why waste time and energy with that pesky “become a citizen” thing when you can vote on all the local issues anyway? You don’t even need to speak English. How handy is that?

Clearly I think this is a profoundly stupid policy, but that is neither here nor there, and the City Council vote for the amendment is not what elevates College Park to the exalted level of “The Dumbest Town in America.” Here is the clincher for me. It was a day or two after the celebrating and back slapping before someone mentioned that this same group of aldermen, along with this same mayor, had passed a new charter amendment just a few months earlier that required six votes for future charter amendments to be approved. In other words the new amendment had not passed after all, as it had only received four votes. The group of high level city leaders admitted that they had forgotten this new amendment. To be fair, it was necessary to remember the new rule for a whole three months or so, and they apparently have so much to do managing this enormous metropolis of 32,000 that they just plain forgot. After all it was a new charter amendment, and who even pays attention to stuff like that? Certainly not the folks who vote them into existence.

I’ve run businesses all around the world, and I must admit that I would more than likely have canned this group of nincompoops for not knowing what they were doing. How do you not know going in to this contentious hearing, one in a series, that you need to get six votes for passage? Fortunately for them, they are legislators, and they are not held to the same levels of competence as are the normal working classes.

It is the same with local governments everywhere; legislators get so involved in the imagined ethereal nuances of high-minded legislation that they often overlook the basic rules of governance, even when they write those same rules. This lack of care is the primary reason legislators are regularly rewriting or rewording earlier legislation.

Could it be that many legislators are not all that bright? I think so. Could it be that many legislators are not all that focused? Probably. Could it be that this lack of care helps drive the extraordinarily high disapproval ratings we give to legislators nationwide? Absolutely. So in honor of this double legislative whammy, I propose that the mayor and City Council of College Park, Md., be proclaimed not just dumb but The Dumbest Town In America.

Where do I send the nomination?

James F. Hollan III (jimhollan@verizon.net) is a former CEO of several national and international trade associations and a past vice president at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

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