Democrats Final Winners Of Fiery Redistricting War

November 06, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

For 42 minutes Monday, the County Council conducted business with calmness and civility.

Before and after those 42 minutes, the council waged a bitter districting fight.

When it was over, the Democrats won, 3-2 -- the same margin they have held throughout the six-month districting process.

By law, the council had to redraw district lines by next March to reflect population changes. Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Darrel Drown, R-2nd, hadto lose precincts. Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, Charles C. Feaga, R-5th,and C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, had to gain them.

The council initially passed the districting bill by a 3-2 margin at 9:30 p.m. Monday, following some acrimonious debate. Gray then called a recess and council members met in pairs behind closed doors to avoid public scrutiny while discussing strategy.

When the council returned, Gray moved toreconsider the previous action. All except Feaga agreed.

The Democrats then sought to adopt without alteration the map the council hadput out for public hearing last month -- a map both Drown and Feaga had said was untenable.

In the debate that followed, Feaga kept asking why the council was reconsidering its earlier vote, and Gray kept saying Feaga might like to make an amendment that would remove Highland and political rival John W. Taylor from Feaga's district.

Feaga had filed such an amendment last week "in hopes of getting the Democrats to maneuver a little," but withdrew it Monday prior to the vote.

Feaga said the real reason the Democrats were changing their minds was to punish him for not voting "yes" earlier and making the plan veto-proof. Feaga said the punishment was to extend his district --already the county's largest geographically -- to an impossible degree.

Regardless, council members continued to needle each other until Gray called on the council to defer reconsideration of the bill until after discussion of other matters.

After 42 minutes of civility, the council took a second recess. Afterward, Farragut moved that the council again approve the map it had earlier rejected.

"If we'dput John Taylor in the 4th District, this whole problem would have been solved," Gray said.

Feaga bristled, saying he made it "very, very clear from the beginning" that he wanted to keep 100 percent of his current district.

After the meeting, Feaga said he "didn't needto be scolded by a 15-minute sermon by Dr. Gray. I'm 59 and an elected colleague. I thought he had a little more class than that."

Gray said Feaga and Drown's contention that the Democrats did not allow them a voice in the process and sought to scold them was a "half-truth, misrepresentation

and downright distortion."

"They came in with their own game plan and executed it," he said. "They turned this into a circus. I am really disappointed."

The final product, approved shortly before midnight, differs little from the map the council put out for public hearing last month.

That map made major changesin the 1st and 2nd districts, both of which had to lose precincts tocomply with the 1990 census.

Drown's district was the most radically altered. He loses Dorsey's Search and a portion of Dorsey Hall toFarragut. He also loses Burleigh Manor, Centennial Estates and Pine Orchard Meadows to Feaga. He picks up Elkridge, Montgomery Woods and Hunt Club Estates from Pendergrass.

Drown, who cast "a 1,000 times, No!" vote against the new map, said it forces him to lose 16,000 constituents and gain 11,000 new ones.

Pendergrass, who had to lose at least 11,192 people from her district, sheds five Elkridge precincts she lost in 1990 but picks up Allview Estates from Farragut and Hammond Village from Feaga.

Gray's district becomes enlarged to include Dorsey, Fox Hunt Estates and Aladdin Village mobile home park.

Farragut's district no longer crosses U.S. 29 but goes south to Fulton and west to Highland. One of the minor changes Monday was to put Highland in the 5th district.

On the council's earlier map, it had been split between the 4th and the 5th districts.

Feaga loses the territory Farragut gains, but gains the western territory Drown lost.

The new map also renumbers the districts, beginning with Drown's,which becomes the 1st, and moves clockwise. Gray's district becomes the 2nd, and Pen

dergrass' becomes the 3rd. The Farragut and Feagadistricts keep their old numbers.

The council tabled a districting resolution identical to the bill, opening the possibility of an executive veto -- bills can be vetoed, resolutions can't. To make a billveto-proof, four of the five council members must support it.

In earlier action Monday, the council voted to buy four cars for the sheriff's department with $50,000 from the contingency fund. It also voted for the first time to reject a property owner seeking admission toto the county's farmland preservation program, and it exempted residents who have lived a year or more in certain mobile home parks from having to pay retroactive security deposits.

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