Republicans To Sue Election Board Over Council Boundaries

Gop Committee Seeks Compromise On New Districts

February 12, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Howard County Republicans plan to sue the county election board for accepting new County Council boundaries passed by the council but vetoed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

GOP leaders said Monday they will file the suit in Circuit Court later this month in the interest of "good government."

But their real purpose appears to be to force the Democratic majority on the five-member council to negotiate new boundaries.

"We hope to resolve this before it goes to court," said Republican CentralCommittee chairwoman Carol R. Arscott. "All the Democrats need to dois sit down" with Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, and Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and compromise.

"I never heard of negotiating legislation after ithas passed," said Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. "I'm not sure it's an issue. Everyone had a chance to be a part of the (redistricting) process."

Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, objectsto the prospect of the county spending money to defend the suit whenit is facing an $18.5 million deficit. "It bothers me that this is going to cost the county thousands of dollars when we're having to struggle to fund education," he said.

Pendergrass also complained that Ecker aide Gail Bates was present for the conference.

"You wouldthink our Annapolis lobbyist would be in the capital trying to get help with the budget," Pendergrass said. "She seems to be making poor choices about how to spend her time."

Arscott said that if councilDemocrats were concerned about saving money, they would not have voted to spend more than $7,600 for advice from former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti on assuring that a new districting plan would pass legal muster. The Republican challenge is being handled for free.

The crux of the Republican argument -- and one shared by County Solicitor Barbara Cook in a Sept. 16, 1991 opinion -- is that council boundaries are established by law, not by resolution.

The crux of the Democratic argument -- and one supported by former County Solicitor Timothy E. Welsh in an Oct. 22, 1985 opinion -- is that boundaries may be established by resolution. In 1986, when districts were first created, the council established them with a bill followed by aresolution a month later.

This time, the council passed a redistricting bill in November that was vetoed by Ecker, a Republican. The council then passed a resolution the following month establishing the boundaries. Bills may be vetoed, while resolutions cannot. It takes four votes to overturn a veto.

"This is tremendous," Ecker said of the suit planned by David Maier of Elkridge and Louis Pope of Laurel and supported by the Republican Central Committee. "I wish we had hadthe money to do it."

Democrat Thomas Lloyd, a prominent local zoning attorney and former county solicitor, is taking the Republicans' case pro bono. Had he charged for his services, the cost of handling the case would have been about $10,000, Lloyd said.

"One of the most important things in government is that your government acts withinthe law," Lloyd said. "We feel strongly that we owe something to thecommunity."

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