Redrawn districts approved Vote of 4-1 makes plan safe from veto

July 07, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Were it not for a bit of quibbling over the final population numbers in the county's newly redrawn councilmanic districts, the Howard County Council's agreeing on them would have seemed easy, Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass said last night.

But anyone who has followed the politically painful and expensive process would have known better.

Last night, the council approved 4-1 a redistricting plan that would take effect with next year's county elections. The bill now goes to County Executive Charles I. Ecker for his signature.

"I think this is certainly an improvement over what we were working with," said Republican Charles C. Feaga, who represents western Howard.

Mr. Feaga cast the deciding vote last night, thus ending the partisan feud that started in July 1991 with the introduction of opposing plans drawn by Democrats and Republicans.

The four votes were needed to make the plan safe from a possible veto by Mr. Ecker, who vetoed the last redistricting bill because, he said, it unnecessarily divided communities and had too wide a range of population between districts. Then the three Democrats, to get around Mr. Ecker's veto, approved the very same redistricting plan in a resolution, which cannot be vetoed. The resolution was challenged by the Republicans in court and Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. ruled that the plan had to be in the form of a bill.

Last night, Republican Councilman Darrel Drown, who currently represents just about all of Ellicott City, was the lone dissenter.

"I think we've done too much shifting around so I think I'll have to vote no to this," Mr. Drown said. He had wanted to keep as much of his existing Ellicott City district together as possible. Instead, he lost large pieces of western Ellicott City to Mr. Feaga's western district and took on unfamiliar Elkridge voters.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat whose current district consists mainly of eastern Columbia, was the only council member to vote against an amendment introduced by Mr. Drown that shifted about 320 people from the Elkridge community of Timberview into the new Ellicott City-Elkridge district. Mr. Gray said he objected to the timing of the amendment, which he did not learn of until yesterday.

Under the new plan, Mr. Gray will live in a district that will also take in Jessup and parts of Elkridge south of routes 176 and 100.

Ms. Pendergrass, who represents the southeastern edge of the county and a small part of Columbia, will lose Elkridge and Jessup and keep North Laurel, Savage, and parts of the Columbia villages of Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance.

The remaining district is Democrat Paul Farragut's. His current district consists mainly of western Columbia. Under the new plan, communities south of western Columbia, such as Simpsonville and Scaggsville, will be included in his district.

The council last night approved an amendment introduced by Mr. Feaga that took part of Fulton -- east of Brown's Ridge Road and south of Route 216 -- out of the west county district and put it into Mr. Farragut's district.

Mr. Feaga and Mr. Farragut recommended that another body, such as a citizens committee, be appointed to study redistricting and make recommendations to the council.

"As I have said from the beginning, this is not a job for the council to be doing," Mr. Feaga said. But Mr. Gray scoffed at attempting to make the process nonpolitical.

"You cannot take politics out of politics, and obviously you cannot take politics out of redistricting," he said.

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