A U.S. Census official told the Baltimore City Council yesterday that her department would not be able to supply Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke with current population data in time to guide the mayor's plan for new councilmanic districts, which is required by Feb. 1.
Council members said that if the mayor were forced to draft a plan based on flawed population estimates, a federal judge might declare the new councilmanic districts invalid, and possibly throw next year's council elections into disarray.
"We really run the risk of having to hold two elections," said Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th.
Cathy L. Talbert, assistant chief of the Census Bureau's redistricting data office, said the bureau would not be able to release preliminary data before late February or early March.
And she said that data could be subject to revision by the secretary of commerce as late as July 15.
"What this means is he can't use 1990 figures for election precincts because they won't exist," she said.
But City Solicitor Neal Janey downplayed the concerns, saying the mayor could submit a plan based on population estimates by the Feb. 1 deadline and then revise the plan before it went into effect.
Voting districts across the country are required to redraw their boundary lines every 10 years to reflect the latest census count, in order to comply with the Supreme Court mandate of one man, one vote.
Redistricting is expected to raise controversial racial and political questions in Baltimore. That is because the current councilmanic boundaries, a legacy of a bitter redistricting fight in 1971, are said to dilute black voting strength by concentrating black voters in some districts and diluting black voter numbers in other districts.
Though a majority of Baltimore's population is black, there are only seven blacks on the 19-member City Council.
Baltimore City law requires the mayor to submit a plan for redistricting to the council in the form of an ordinance by Feb. 1. The council then has 60 days to make any amendments and approve the ordinance. Should the council not act within that time, the mayor's plan would become law.
Aides to the mayor said he planned to rely largely on a 1988 Regional Planning Council estimate of the population in each of the city's 220 census tracks for drawing a new map of the city's six councilmanic districts.
"The mayor is confident we will have accurate enough statistics to do a fair redistricting," said Clint Coleman, the mayor's press secretary.
Members of the council who attended the hearing sharply criticized Mr. Janey for refusing to testify before the committee, saying he was required by the City Charter to respond to questions on legal matters posed by the council.
Council members said his refusal to testify had left them unclear on several legal questions, such as whether changes in boundary lines could prohibit an incumbent from running in his former district or what rules the U.S. Supreme Court has made for redistricting.
"I think this is a disgrace because his clients are both the mayor and the City Council of Baltimore," said Councilman Wilbur "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd.
But Mr. Janey said he declined to appear before the committee because he would be acting as the mayor's lawyer while Mr. Schmoke drafted his redistricting plan and would not want to be in a position of having to violate client confidentiality.
"What we are trying to avoid is the possibility of disclosing to the council matters we are advising to the mayor in confidence."
He said he would be available to advise the council after Feb. 1. Until then, he said, the council could get advice from staff members with legal backgrounds or could ask the Board of Estimates to hire a private lawyer to advise them.