Jail critics have a shot

Redistricting plan for Towson upsets many residents

`Window of opportunity'

Council pressured to vote to eliminate funds for expansion

May 26, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Sensing opportunity in a redistricting plan many of his constituents oppose, Baltimore County Councilman Wayne M. Skinner introduced a measure yesterday that would eliminate $70 million for expansion of the county detention center in Towson.

Towson residents have fought for months to block the jail expansion. They campaigned hard - but failed - to defeat a bond referendum on the issue in November.

Skinner, a Republican, also has crusaded against expanding the jail, which is in his district. But he's been outvoted 6-1 on the council, making his previous motions and amendments nothing more than symbolic gestures.

Now, thanks to redistricting, he's putting his colleagues on the spot.

A redistricting plan proposed this week would split Towson among three council districts, a move Skinner and many Towson residents oppose.

Still, there might be side benefits, Skinner says. If redistricting is approved - as appears likely - councilmen Kevin Kamenetz, T. Bryan McIntire and Vincent J. Gardina would have to campaign in Towson in 2002. Gardina and Skinner would be running for the same seat.

That creates what Skinner refers to as "a window of opportunity."

His proposed amendment to the new capital budget would cut the jail funding, forcing the issue to be reconsidered next year.

Skinner hopes that by then he could muster support for a site outside Towson.

"Before, I couldn't even get a second on a vote," he said yesterday. "I hope by Tuesday morning, we'll have four votes."

The council is scheduled to meet then to vote on the 2001-2002 budget.

Yesterday, Towson residents expressed anger over the redistricting plan and the jail expansion - which would increase the size of the detention center by about 1,000 beds over 20 years.

Still, some see the redrawing of district lines as an opportunity to kill the expansion.

Others look on Skinner's amendment as a poke in the eye to Kamenetz, a Democrat, and McIntire, a Republican, both of whom had a hand in the redistricting plan.

`Essential step'"[The jail issue] is very big, and Kamenetz and McIntire have their jobs cut out for them to make themselves attractive to the Towson community," said Richard Parsons, vice president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association.

"I would say it is almost an essential step for McIntire and Kamenetz to vote against the funding to establish some credibility with the Towson community," he said.

Neither Skinner nor Gardina, a Democrat and former Towson resident, were among the five sponsors of the plan.

Amendment considered

Kamenetz, identified by council members as a chief architect of the redistricting proposal, said he had received about a dozen phone calls from Towson residents by mid-afternoon yesterday, all of them supporting Skinner's amendment.

"I did review the [amendment] that he's proposed," he said. "I believe that the proposed multiple district representation will benefit Towson more than just one councilman. Therefore, I shall give the jail matter great thought over the weekend."

Gardina also said he'd study the amendment. McIntire could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Office of the County Auditor has recommended that the council cut funding for the jail from the budget in the coming year because $35 million in state funding that was expected was not appropriated. Construction isn't expected to begin until fiscal 2003.

The auditor recommended either cutting all of the money or leaving $4 million to cover design costs.

Skinner was the only member of the council to show any interest in the recommendation. But that was before redistricting.

Skinner will still be hard-pressed to muster four votes: If the expanded jail isn't located in Towson, it will have to go somewhere else. And no one on the council wants such a facility in his district.

Support to be gained

Even if other council members support Skinner's amendment, they still will have to prove themselves to Towson voters, said Corinne D. Becker, the Riderwood Hills Community Association president.

"I could live with a detention center expansion easier than the proposed redistricting plan," she said. "If funding is cut, so be it, but support from Mr. McIntire and Mr. Kamenetz at this late date doesn't cause any warm welcome to Towson from me."

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