Residents speak out on redistricting

Commission has first of 3 hearings before drafting a plan

Howard County

June 27, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

When it comes to County Council redistricting, local government officials can pick their poison.

Draft a plan in secret, present it to the public, and watch the angry crowds pour in - as in Baltimore County.

Name a citizens commission and invite the public to say what they want - as at last night's Howard County Councilmanic Redistricting Commission hearing at Long Reach High School in Columbia - and 11 people appeared, with just three who wanted to speak.

Why the poor response in Howard County?

"Because there's nothing to react against," said commission member Michael J. Deets.

"We know it's easier to react to a plan than to put one together," said commissioner Priscilla Hart, but chairman David Marker noted that it is easier for members of the public to make their points before a plan is drafted.

Ken Stevens of Savage said he hopes Owen Brown village in Columbia can be united in one council district instead of the current two, and Rosemary Mortimer of Columbia urged the commission to try to keep school communities together, too. David Margolis, a potential Libertarian County Council candidate next year, said he "hopes the board doesn't get mired down in politics," and crafts equal districts.

Last night's hearing is the first sponsored by the commission, a group of citizens appointed by the County Council. Another hearing is scheduled for 7:30 tomorrow night at River Hill High for western county residents. The group will draft a proposed plan and hold a third hearing in September before presenting recommendations to the County Council by Oct. 15.

The council will have the final say. Changes in state legislative and congressional district lines will be made by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly later in the year.

According to the 2000 census, Howard County's council districts are only minimally out of proportion, so controversy is expected to be at a minimum, unlike the fracas in neighboring Baltimore County.

There, pressure to create a new majority African-American council district along the Liberty Road corridor created controversy when the council's majority Democrats decided to divide Republican Towson to do it. Public outcry forced revisions in the plan and a vow to do things differently next time.

After its own redistricting controversy a decade ago had to be settled in Circuit Court, Howard officials created the commission to recommend new district lines.

Only two of Howard's five council districts, the first, covering Ellicott City and Elkridge, and the third, covering the southeastern county, are beyond the 5 percent deviation from the ideal district size of 49,568.

The first district has almost 3,000 too many people, and the third has almost 5,000 too few. The first must shrink and the third must grow. New boundaries could change for all five districts to accomplish that.

Howard's population has grown about 32 percent from a decade ago, when the ideal council district held about 37,000 people.

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