Redistricting, smoking on agenda of County Council hearing

June 21, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Residents attending tonight's County Council hearing will be treated to a double feature: "Redistricting 1994" and "No Smoking 1996."

Redistricting was to be the centerpiece, but on Friday, County Executive Charles I. Ecker vetoed what would have been the toughest anti-smoking bill in the state.

He told the council he would sign the bill if lawmakers amend it to include taverns in the smoking ban scheduled to go into effect July 1, 1996, and if the council drops a so-called smokers' rights clause.

The council will respond to the executive's veto in a legislative session following tonight's 8 p.m. public hearing. First, however, it will revive its long-running redistricting dispute.

The party conflict that ended in a climactic courtroom scene in November will be largely absent from tonight's production.

The basic plot is the same: Democrats and Republicans vying to redraw council district lines in a way that would let the winner control legislative power over the next decade. The lines must reflect population changes recorded in the 1990 census and be in place in time for the 1994 election.

Democrats, who have controlled the council since its inception, feel confident they will retain the Columbia seats held now by Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, and C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd. They have all but conceded the seats now held by Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, however.

The battle for power -- some would say political survival -- is in the district now represented by Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and coveted by Republican Dennis Schrader. Ms. Pendergrass has said she will seek another office in 1994, but Mr. Schrader, who lost to Ms. Pendergrass by 282 votes in 1990, will run for the council seat a second time.

Republicans cried foul when in December 1991, the council voted 3-2 along party lines to approve a redistricting plan by resolution after Mr. Ecker had vetoed a bill containing the plan favored by Democrats. It takes four votes to override a veto, but only three votes to pass a resolution, and unlike bills, resolutions cannot be vetoed.

The Democratic victory was short-lived. A circuit court judge ruled on Nov. 6, 1992, that the Democrats' strategy was invalid because it was enacted by resolution.

Following the court decision, council members met behind closed doors off and on for six months attempting to achieve a compromise acceptable to both parties. None was found and the council again put competing plans on its agenda.

Until last week, it looked as if the council was headed for another stalemate. But after talking with Mr. Ecker and Mr. Drown, Mr. Feaga met with Ms. Pendergrass to tell her that the Republicans are, in effect, throwing in the towel.

Mr. Feaga says he will abandon his plan and support the map proposed by Ms. Pendergrass. In return, Ms. Pendergrass agreed to two minor changes sought by Mr. Feaga.

He asked that Font Hill go into Mr. Drown's district and Valley Mede east to Greenway Drive go into Mr. Feaga's district. The neighborhoods are reversed on the map presented by Ms. Pendergrass.

The second change calls for about 400 Fulton voters to be included in Mr. Farragut's district. Ms. Pendergrass had put those voters in her district.

"I appreciate that we appear to have found common ground," Ms. Pendergrass said.

Mr. Drown said the ground is more like a brick wall.

"I think we gave a whole lot, got a whole little," he said. "It looks like a fait accompli. A wise old politician once told me it never does any good to beat your head against a brick wall because all it does it make your head hurt more. This wall hasn't budged an inch."

"Darrel has every right in the world to be very, very upset," Mr. Feaga said. "The Democrats did not know what the word compromise meant."

Mr. Drown's district was altered more radically than any other. About 40 percent of his district include people new to him under the plan expected to be approved in July.

Mr. Feaga's vote, when added to that of the three Democrats, would make the plan veto proof.

"Maybe it's called getting along," Mr. Feaga said. "But we've got more important things to do now. Maybe it's because I grew up in the county, but I feel I represent the county as a whole. [District] boundaries mean very little."

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