Ecker Vetoes Council's Redistricting Plan

Gray Livid

November 17, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker vetoed the County Council's redistricting plan Friday, saying it unnecessarily divides communities, hastoo wide a range of population between districts and is not compact enough.

Ecker also vetoed a council bill creating a spending affordability committee to deal with the fiscal 1993 budget. He called thebill too restrictive, but said he has established by executive ordera spending affordability committee to deal with the fiscal 1993 budget.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said he was appalled by both vetoes -- the first by an executive since Gray cast his first vote on the council in December 1982.

The redistricting veto is "nothing more than a crass, selfish act for partisan political reasons," Gray said. "I am dumbfounded for the executive to say it's legal, but not fair. I think the plan is fair. The good-guy image has long worn off his face."

Gray said he would not seek to overturn Ecker's veto unless he has the votes. Four of the five council members must voteto override a veto. Thus far, council redistricting votes have followed party lines, with the Democrats having their way with the Republicans, 3-2.

By law, votes to overturn vetoes must come in the legislative session immediately following the veto. The council will hold a special legislative session tomorrow night.

Because Democrat Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, is not expected to attend tomorrow night's meeting, Gray would like to postpone the vote until the next regularly scheduled meeting, Dec. 2. He said he will review the county charter to determine whether the veto rule applies to every legislative meeting or only to regularly scheduled ones.

The question could become moot, because Gray plans to call for a Dec. 2 vote on a council resolution identical to the redistricting bill. Only three votes are neededto pass resolutions, which cannot be vetoed.

Ecker, in a three-page cover letter to Gray, said politics was not a factor in his veto.

"Redistricting to me is neither . . . political expediency" nor "doing what is minimally required," Ecker said. "The issue is one of fundamental fairness based on good planning."

The council redistricting plan "may well be a legally supportable document," Ecker wrote Gray, "but it is not a fair document for three reasons."

His first objection, Ecker said, is that the plan divides north Laurel, Dorsey Search, McAlpine and Fulton "when such divisions are not necessary."

Secondly, the 8.35 percent population deviation between the most- and least-populous districts, while legal, is too great, Ecker believes. The plan makes new District 1 -- Ellicott City and Elkridge -- toolarge, he said, because it is one of the county's fastest-growing areas. It could be 30 percent larger than District 4 -- west Columbia -- by the year 2000, he said.

Ecker's third objection is that District 5 -- rural western Howard County -- already the county's largest geographically, has been overly enlarged. "At best, this is a cumbersome district," Ecker said. "At worst, it violates the charter requirement for compactness."

The aim of his veto, Ecker said, is "to encourage participants in the redistricting process to renew their goal of establishing district lines that provide protection against the dilution of voting power and the disruption of communities with common interests."

Ecker pledged Gray his cooperation and participation, saying in the letter, "By working together, our goals can be obtained."

Gray would have none of it.

"If he had said he was vetoing the bill because it violated constitutional requirements to maintain population equality and not to dilute minority voting strength, I could understand it," Gray said.

"But this was for no reason other than partisan politics. It is an unfortunate thing, because it will affect (the council on) other things he is going to try to do in other areas. The handwriting is on the wall."

Gray said he was befuddled by the spending affordability committee veto and will seek to overrideit as well.

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