In the growing battle over revising County Council district lines, community harmony may be the biggest casualty.
At a public hearing Tuesday, attended by more than 40 people, residents of Edgewood and Forest Hill found themselves pitted against one another as they discussed a redistricting plan developed by Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson and council members Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, and TheresaM. Pierno, D-District C.
Council members must vote Tuesday to select either that redistricting plan, an amended version of that plan now being developed, or a plan recommended by the Harford County Redistricting Commission. Although the deadline for enacting a redistricting plan is Dec. 10, the council must make its choice this week because deadlines for public hearing notices preclude introduction of another bill.
At the 1 1/2-hour hearing last week, which will be continued before the vote is taken Tuesday, Edgewood residents reiterated their cry for representation by a single council member, a goal they believe would be accomplished under the council members' plan.
However, to keep populations in various districts as even as possible -- a legal requirement -- the council members' plan would move Forest Hill from District C
into District E with Aberdeen -- an action Forest Hill residents, and the mayor of Aberdeen, oppose.
"No one here suggests Edgewood is nota community. It's just not a town," said Howard Klein, a member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee whose grocery chain, Klein's, is based in Forest Hill.
"Forest Hill is just as much of acommunity. Abingdon, with a population of 22,380, is growing fast. Why insist on consolidating Edgewood, and not Abingdon, or Joppatowne?" he asked.
Klein said the council members' proposal "pits one community against another" by combining communities with "gross dissimilarities."
He said he favored another plan the council is considering, one recommended by the Harford County Redistricting Commission. The commission's plan would leave the Edgewood precincts divided between District A and F as they are now.
Robert Hickey was one of morethan a dozen Edgewood residents who spoke in favor of the council members' plan to unify Edgewood precincts by putting them in a single district.
"I'd like to see the council listen to the citizens who are speaking," said Hickey. "The county has had a political machine historically, but in the last election you saw a
resolve to see an end to that. Now, I see political machines working again. Why are there municipalities and entities here to protest the plan? Why is the Republican Central Committee here? What the people want, the people should have. I'm not in favor of a numbers game."
Another speaker whofavored the council members' plan was B. Daniel Riley, who presentedthe council with tea bags at a previous hearing on the commission's proposal with a reminder of the American colonists' lesson of taxation without representation.
"In 1981, the Edgewood community asked for help in fighting its drug and crime problem, and the council members from Districts A and F promised help. It didn't come," said Riley."We want you to support this bill. We're willing to do our share, but we want one council member."
The plan submitted to the council last month by the Harford County Redistricting Commission would shift about 16 percent of county residents, or about 28,887 people, into new precincts. Edgewood residents, however, would be unaffected, still divided into two districts.
In contrast, the council members' planwould shift about 17 percent of county residents, or 30,795 people, and would put all three Edgewood precincts into District A.
Aberdeen Mayor George Englesson told the council they need to develop a newidea because both the Edgewood and Forest Hill communities object tothe two plans presented so far.
"You have to do better than this," said Englesson, referring to the council members' proposal.
Council members, who are discussing several amendments to their colleagues' proposal, said they would continue the redistricting public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the council chambers, Level A of the CountyCourthouse in Bel Air.