New effort planned on redistricting Divided council seeks compromise

January 08, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

A contentious Howard County Council accepted defeat yesterday and decided to try again to redistrict the county in accordance with the 1990 census.

Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, will study two districting plans in an attempt to negotiate a compromise that will be acceptable to the three Democrats and two Republicans on the council.

By law, the council must complete its redistricting by May 1994.

One of the maps to be used as a source for the compromise was approved by the council in a December 1991 resolution by a 3-2 vote along party lines. It was ruled "constitutionally defective and invalid" by Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. on Nov. 6 because it was approved by resolution rather than through a bill.

The second map to be used was drawn up by Republican Michael Deets on behalf of the Columbia Association board of directors. It was submitted to the council on Oct. 21, 1991, but was never seriously considered as an alternative to the map eventually adopted by the council.

At the time of its submission, Mr. Deets and Democrat Charles Acquard, who was then the Columbia Association's board chairman, said they did not expect the council to adopt the association's map, but they did expect the council to "incorporate the better aspects" of a plan that acknowledges Columbia as "the political and economic center of the county."

"The map is pretty comparable to the council map," Mr. Deets said yesterday. "It keeps Columbia villages together and uses only major roads as dividing lines. It does not divide neighborhoods. It is a lot closer in population" than the map the council accepted.

Mr. Drown did not want the Columbia Association map used as a basis for compromise. He preferred to use a map originally drawn up by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who is also a Republican.

"If you want to talk compromise, talk about the Republican map" drawn up by Mr. Ecker, Mr. Drown said during yesterday's acrimonious work session. Mr. Ecker's map kept Mr. Drown's district pretty much intact. The Deets map and the one approved by council Democrats do not. They put Elkridge and Ellicott City together in Mr. Drown's district.

Republican Charles C. Feaga, who represents the 5th District, ,, does not think that is a problem.

"I understand where you're coming from," he told Mr. Drown. "But I did get the idea from the public testimony that Elkridge wanted to be linked to Ellicott City."

"You take Ellicott City and break it in two in order to bring two communities together? There's no logic to it," Mr. Drown said.

Council members did not appear to work together any better yesterday than they have since July 11, 1991, when the process began. The vote on how to proceed yesterday was again 3-2, only this time it did not follow party lines.

Mr. Feaga voted with Ms. Pendergrass and Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, to work out a compromise based on the Deets map and the Democrats' map. Mr. Drown and C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, voted against it.

Mr. Farragut suggested that Ms. Pendergrass and Mr. Feaga work together on a compromise based on the two maps, but Mr. Drown objected.

"You pick who you want and we'll pick who we want," he said. "I'm not sure I trust Charlie."

"We'll settle this real fast," Mr. Feaga said. "You and Shane sit down and work it out."

Council members agreed to have Mr. Drown and Ms. Pendergrass work together.

They also agreed to have Mr. Farragut work with Mr. Ecker on a charter amendment that would allow future redistricting to be done by a commission.

Mr. Gray, chief architect of the map approved by council Democrats, had wanted the council to take a different tack yesterday and deal solely with the three objections raised by Mr. Ecker in his Nov. 14, 1991 veto of the map adopted by the council by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

Mr. Ecker objected that the map divided some communities unnecessarily, that population differences were too large between districts, and that district boundaries, especially in District 5, were too long.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Ecker repeated his concern that districts be as compact as possible. He also said he felt the Columbia districts should be as large as possible now, since they will grow the least in the next 10 years.

Mr. Gray said he did not agree with all of the executive's objections, but would attempt to find a way to compromise with them.

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