Redistricting Committee Drops Plan For 9 Council Seats

Panel Reverses Itself After Public Hearing

September 22, 1991|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

A county panel has dropped a proposal to increase the number of County Council members from seven to nine.

The Charter Revision Commission, charged with redrawing County Council districts based on population changes recorded in the 1990 Census, decided last week to recommend a seven-district plan. The commission will take a formal vote tomorrow night and finalize plans for presentation to the County Councilon Wednesday.

Commission members had voted, 3-2, last month to recommend a nine-district plan. But after speakers at a public hearing last week overwhelmingly opposed the nine-district plan, the commission dropped theidea.

"We agreed to stop tilting at windmills, and instead we will try to incorporate the best aspects of the nine-district map into the seven," Commission Chairman Robert D. Agee said.

Agee said the commission will consider two seven-district maps at its meeting tomorrow. He said members may recommend both plans to the council.

Theyalso may recommend that the council delay approving a plan until next spring, when state General Assembly districts will be redrawn, creating new precincts. Agee said new precincts would make it easier for the commission to redraw council boundaries without splitting communities.

"We can do more fine-tuning if the council could wait until the state adopts new legislative districts," he said.

Agee has been the commission's strongest advocate of nine council districts. He said he will mention that option to the council, even though the commission has decided not to recommend it. "The issue ought to be debatedand discussed," he said.

If the council approved a nine-district plan, it would go on the November 1992 ballot as a change in the County Charter.

Opponents of the nine-district plan say two additionalcouncil members, plus staff and expenses, would cost $250,000 a year.

Agee said that the additional cost would be about $190,000 but that cost isn't an issue because the current seven council members will need more staff members to cope with the county's growing population.

Agee has collected statistics showing that in other counties, council members who represent more than 61,000 people -- the average council district size in Anne Arundel -- receive higher pay and have more staff members than Anne Arundel council members.

"If ever there was a red herring, this is it," he said.

Residents would have more access to council members under a nine-district plan, proponents have said, and minority representation would be improved. Anne ArundelCounty has grown by roughly 150,000 people since the inception of charter government in 1965, but the number of council members has stayed the same.

Under a seven-district plan, each member would represent roughly 61,000 people. With the nine-district plan, that number drops to about 48,000.

Opponents say nine districts would result in more communities being divided between districts. They also say that two additional council members would not greatly improve constituent service.

The most vocal group at last week's public hearing was Severna Park residents, who favor a seven-member council but opposed both the commission's nine-district and seven-district maps because their community would be divided under the plans.

The county Republican Central Committee, Lower Broadneck Federation of Community Associations, Crofton Civic Association, Severn Improvement Association, Anne Arundel Trade Council and West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce also favored seven districts.

The Black Political Forum and the county Democratic Central Committee support the nine-district plan.The Millersville/Severn Run Federation, which represents 3,700 homes, and the Greater Severn Improvement Association (which represents 8,000 homes and is not to be confused with the smaller Severn Improvement Association) also favor the nine-district plan.

Robert McMurtrie, president of the Greater Severn Improvement Association, was disappointed to hear of the commission's vote. The nine-district plan would have put most of Severn, which is split among three districts, intoone district.

He said he would support a petition drive to put the nine-member option on the November 1992 ballot.

"It's too big anissue for the County Council to decide by itself," McMurtrie said. "It should be going to the people. Let them decide."

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