The County Council voted last week to spend up to $25,000 to hire a prominent Baltimore attorney to fend off Republican challenges to a future districting plan and to keep a Republican central committee member from serving on the county ethics commission.
The 3-2 vote to hire Benjamin R. Civiletti, a former U.S. attorney general, was identical to a council work session vote in late July. Civiletti was not mentioned by name in the resolution.
The vote split along party lines.
Minority council members Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, argued in vain Tuesdaythat if the Democrats would work with them to forge a new plan, it would go unchallenged and outside counsel would be unnecessary.
"We'll be glad to sit down in the front room, back room, any place you choose" to work out an acceptable compromise, Drown said. "If we sat down, we could do a very good job."
"We're not hiring a lawyer to draw the lines," council chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, shot back. "The question is where to draw lines that will pass muster. I could trust you to draw the lines."
One of the issues Gray wants resolved is whether the county executive can veto a council-approved plan. Because of their majority on the council, the Democrats could pass a planto their liking but not make it veto-proof. Four votes are needed tooverride a veto.
When district lines were first drawn in 1986, J.Hugh Nichols, who was then county executive, returned the bill unsigned, saying it would "set a dangerous precedent" for him to sign it. The reson for leaving it unsigned, he said, is that the charter amendment requiring council to create districts does not mention a role for the executive.
Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker, however, has said he will use his veto power against anything he doesn'tlike. Gray doesn't think the executive has a veto role.
Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said the hiring of outside counsel would clarify theissue and would be a relief to county solicitor Barbara Cook. "She realizes the difficulty" in making a decision affirming or denying theexecutive's role, Pendergrass said of Cook.
Feaga doesn't see a problem. Cook and the county attorneys under her "have a unique way ofsetting themselves apart" in order to fully represent both council members and the administration, he said. "It is very wrong to seek outside help when county dollars are so scarce." He called the $25,000 amount "astronomical."
The nomination of Allan H. Kittleman for thecounty ethics commission, meanwhile, has been in trouble since May, when Ecker first proposed that the 30-year-old son of popular House of Delegates Minority Whip Robert Kittleman, R-14B, be appointed.
Although the only criteria for serving on the commission is to be a county resident, Pendergrass felt it was inappropriate for a party official to be a member. Both the commission and the county's legal office have found Kittleman fit to serve.
Pendergrass, however, was so opposed to a party official serving on the commission that she drafted a bill excluding all party officials, as well as elected officials and lobbyists, from the panel.
The bill, co-sponsored by the council's other two Democrats, will be given a public hearing Sept. 16 andvoted on Oct. 7.
Kittleman himself is a "a nice young man who is competent at many things," Pendergrass said. "But this was the wrong board at the wrong time for the wrong person."