Baltimore Co. Council sees 2 redistricting plans

July 02, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

The Baltimore County Council last night introduced two plans that spell out contrasting ways council districts may be realigned to keep pace with the population hikes of the past 10 years.

Both will be the subject of a public hearing July 30, the focus of heated discussion in the next few weeks and the basis for a single redistricting proposal to be approved by council Aug. 5.

But even the final plan may be scrapped by the fall of 1994 -- when council members actually have to run for re-election.

Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, said that there is a growing feeling among council members that the size of the council should be increased from seven to nine members so that the county's increasing minority population is adequately represented and communities can be kept intact within district boundaries.

All seven council members are white.

"I think increasingly that having nine members may be the best way to go," Mr. Riley said. Last night, he introduced two redisticting plans.

One sponsored by Councilman Donald Mason would add about 13,000 residents to his 7th District by adding to the district the communities that lie southwest of Rossville Boulevard, Stemmers Run Road and much of Back River Neck Road -- essentially the heart of Essex.

Mr. Mason said that the plan makes sense because it unites two blue collar communities, Dundalk and Essex, and because with future growth in the county the two communities are likely to be joined into a single district eventually.

But that plan has sparked opposition from Councilman Vincent Gardina, a Democrat whose 5th District now includes Essex.

Mr. Gardina said that Essex, a community that goes back to 1911, must be kept intact.

"You just can't divide Essex, it doesn't make sense," he said.

But after both plans were introduced at last night, council members were reminded that their redistricting plan should address the concerns of the black community.

"We feel that we should be an integral part of whatever takes place here. We only get this opportunity once every 10 years," Harold Gordon, a member of the Coalition of African American Organizations, told the council.

The county must adopt a redistricting plan since its population jumped from 655,615 in 1980 to 692,134 in 1990. Much of the population increase has been among minority groups; a total of 85,451 county residents are black.

Much of that increase has been in the Liberty Road corridor, a part of the 2nd district that is 40 percent black.

Based on those numbers, Mr. Gordon said, his group would pTC ordinarily begin a petition drive to ask voters on the 1992 ballot to increase the number of council seats from seven to 11. But he said that the petition drive may be put on hold if council seriously considers its own charter ammendment to create nine districts.

"We want to see how that issue plays out," said Mr. Gordon, who has acknowledged that he would be a council candidate.

Mr. Riley, who introduced himself to Mr. Gordon after last night's session, said that the council looked for ways to create a district with a majority of black voters but that it proved nearly impossible with seven disticts. He said an increase in districts would likely be discussed after a redistricting plan is introduced Aug. 5.

Public hearing

A public hearing on the proposed County Council districts will be held at 7 p.m. July 30 at Loch Raven High School, Cromwell Bridge Road and Cowpens Avenue. District boundaries are scheduled to be adopted at the council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 in the council chambers on the second floor of the Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson.

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