Silencing 35,000 Citizens

March 24, 1995

Members of Baltimore County's House of Delegates contingent should be ashamed that tens of thousands of their fellow citizens have been denied full representation at county delegation meetings.

The main authors of this undemocratic maneuver are Dundalk Dels. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, the delegation chairman, and John S. Arnick. Since last November, the two men have steered a campaign to allow only a one-third vote at membership meetings to each of the six Baltimore City-based delegates who represent some 35,000 county residents in Legislative Districts 42 and 46.

The campaign succeeded last Friday when Mr. Minnick resorted to parliamentary rules to block a delegation vote that likely would have given a full say at meetings to each of the city delegates. This stunt, which defied a recent House Rules Committee edict on the matter, compounded the arrogance of the original stand against the city House members. Casting it in an even worse light is the fact that the county's state senators grant full voting rights at their meetings to their colleagues who represent cross-jurisdiction districts.

So, for now, Messrs. Minnick and Arnick and about half the county delegation have gotten their way: They have struck a feeble blow against the 1991 redistricting that merged sections of the county and the city for the first time.

Yet at what price? After Mr. Minnick's parliamentary ploy, Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., chief of the city delegates, vowed to review the policy of full voting rights for county-based delegates who also represent Baltimore residents. Moreover, important city delegates such as Howard "Pete" Rawlings, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, might be less inclined to look favorably on proposals from county delegates. In Mr. Boston's words, "a can of worms" has been opened.

Credit the freshman delegates from Owings Mills for fighting on behalf of full voting rights for the city delegates. As Del. Dan K. Morhaim, the delegation vice chairman, explained, the issue comes down to whether a Baltimore County citizen in District 42 or 46 deserves representation at delegation meetings equal to that of a citizen from any other county district. The answer, of course, is yes.

However, the rights of county citizens don't seem so important to delegates such as Sonny Minnick and John Arnick, particularly when they have an opportunity to exact a little revenge. But like so many other attempts at retaliation, this one could come back to haunt the avengers.

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