Council Invites The Public To Establish New Districts

June 23, 1991|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

County residents will be asked next week to help draw the lines on new County Council districts.

A committee redrawing council districts to reflect population changes has scheduled four public hearings in different parts of the county over the next several weeks. The first is set for June 27 at Glen Burnie High School.

The remaining hearings will be at Arundel High School in Gambrills July 9; the Arundel Center in Annapolis July 23; and Southern High School in Harwood Aug. 6. All hearings will begin at 7 p.m.

Charter Revision Commission Chairman Robert D. Agee said the group wants toknow people's views on where district boundaries should be, how manycouncil members there should be, and whether council members should be elected all at once or in staggered terms.

Residents will be able to look at population figures and district maps at the hearings.

"We're looking for anything that has to do with redistricting," Agee said. He stressed that council redistricting is not the same issue as school redistricting, a proposal another committee is looking intothat would alter school attendance areas to fill empty seats and reduce the need for building new schools.

The county is divided into seven council districts, each represented by one County Council member. Because of population changes, some districts have grown faster than others, creating an imbalance in the number of people each councilmember represents.

Using 1990 census data, the commission will redraw district boundaries to restore balance to the districts. Membersalso will look at such issues as minority representation and whethercouncil members should remain part-time or become full-time representatives.

"That's the primary question we've got to get through before we decide how many council members we want," Agee said. "What do you expect of them? Do you want them full-time, or do you want their function to be one of oversight, not policy-setting?"

The commission will recommend a plan to the County Council by Sept. 6. The council will act on the commission's recommendations later.

Figures compiled by Senior Planner and Demographer Alexander Speer highlight changes and differences among the districts.

District 4, which stretches from Crownsville to Odenton and is represented by Democrat Dave Boschert, is the smallest district, with 53,660 people.

It has by far the lowest percentage of registered voters. Only 34.5 percent of voting-age people in the district are registered. Officials speculate the low number is due to the presence of military personnel at Fort George G. Meade, who usually register in their home districts, and to the large number of state and federal correctional institutions in thearea.

District 4 also has the largest percentage of black residents, at 26 percent. However, many are in the the state prison system and aren't allowed to vote.

"They're not represented because they have no political rights," said Mary Sellman Jackson, a member of the Black Political Forum's committee that is looking at redistricting.

Although District 4 is expected to grow faster than any other area over the next decade, the county can't redistrict on the basis of anticipated growth. About 15,000 new homes are planned for the area.

By contrast, District 5, which includes Severna Park and Broadneck and is represented by Republican Diane Evans, is the largest district, with 68,985 people. At 71 percent, it has the largest percentage of registered voters. It has the lowest percentage of black residents, at5.3 percent. It is the only district with a Republican majority, by fewer than 100 voters.

District 6, which includes the Annapolis area and is represented by Democrat Maureen Lamb, is 21.6 percent black.

The only other district with a black population greater than 10 percent is District 1, which includes Ferndale and Linthicum and is represented by Democrat George Bachman. The district is 11.1 percent black.

About 12 percent of the county's 427,239 residents are black.

Jackson said the Black Political Forum will present its own redistricting plan at next week's hearing. She said the forum may proposea 12-member council -- with 12 smaller districts, a black majority district could be created.

The council hasn't had a black member since Sarah Carter, a North County Democrat who was defeated in the 1982 primary election after the county instituted voting by districts.

"We have a better shot with the way things are now, but with smaller districts," Jackson said.

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