Ecker Seeks Legal Opinion On Council's Districting Rights

September 11, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who said this week that the County Council should not have "uncontested power" to redraw district lines, has asked the county attorney to bolster his belief.

Other Maryland counties with charters are clear -- they allow the executive to veto council redistricting plans or permit a revised plan to be put on the ballot and decided by the voters, Ecker said.

Ecker wants County Solicitor Barbara Cook to tell him whether thecouncil must use a bill to create new boundaries. He also wants to know if the executive can veto such a bill.

Cook said she would give Ecker the opinion later this week.

The alternative to a bill is for the council to pass a resolution creating new boundaries. Bills can be vetoed or overturned in a voter referendum. Resolutions cannot.Bills petitioned to referendum are put on hold until the next election. Resolutions take effect immediately.

In 1986, when the councilfirst created districts, it did so with a bill first and a resolution a month later.

J. Hugh Nichols, who was county executive at the time, returned the January districting bill unsigned, saying, "It wasnot my intent, nor do I believe it was the intent of others, that the executive have a role in the districting process."

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, also doesn't believe the executive has a role. He and the other Democrats on the council voted, over Republicanobjections, to hire former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti at county expense to defend the council's autonomy.

Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said that while he recognizes the council's right to hire its own attorney, he believes the hiring of Civiletti is "strictly forpartisan concerns at the expense of the taxpayers." Drown asked the county ethics commission to tell him its opinion of the action.

Ecker says the only way the council can change boundaries written into the districting law is by passing a new bill. A resolution "can't getrid of the lines," he said.

Ecker also says he believes he has veto power. "If the charter does not say I don't have it, then I do," he said. He said he would "exercise that veto" if he felt a redistricting bill were not in the public interest.

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