Public hearing on tap for voting districts

3 redistricting plans to go before residents Thursday night

September 09, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The public gets its say Thursday night on three proposals for changing Howard County Council boundaries because of population shifts since 1990 -- a subject that has not prompted wide interest despite implications for the next three elections.

Two Democratic plans and one sponsored by Republicans will be up for comment and viewing at a 7:30 p.m. public hearing sponsored by the Howard County Councilmanic Redistricting Commission in the council chambers in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

The commission is to decide on one plan for new district boundaries to recommend to the County Council by Oct. 15. Council members then have until spring to make a final decision, though they might do so earlier. Both the commission (4-3) and the County Council (3-2) are controlled by Democrats, who likely will have the final say.

None of the plans makes radical changes in the districts, but the new boundaries will control the county's political landscape for the next three local elections, until 2012.

The ideal district would contain 49,568 people -- a 32 percent increase from 1990. To get within the generally accepted variation of no more than 5 percent from that ideal, Howard's District 3, now held by council Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, must expand because it is 9.5 percent too small, according to the 2000 census. Republican Councilman Christopher J. Merdon's District 1, covering Ellicott City and Elkridge, must shrink because it is 5.5 percent over the ideal.

Plan 1, introduced by Republican commission member Michael J. Deets, might give the GOP a better chance to win control of the five-member council. His plan would accomplish that by pushing District 4, now held by west Columbia Democrat Mary C. Lorsung, farther south and east -- away from Columbia's Democratic majority and toward the three large, mixed-use developments planned for Fulton and North Laurel in this decade.

"Columbia is 40 percent of the county's population, but we have this unyielding rule that they should have 60 percent representation on the council. I don't think that's fair," Deets said.

Republicans charge that the Democrats want to pack GOP voters into Districts 1 and 5, to give themselves the best chance of maintaining control of Districts 2, 3 and 4.

Deets said his main goal "is getting a proposal passed where the districts are as equal as possible," without combining North Laurel and the western county into one "unwieldy" district, as the Democratic plans propose.

Two commission Democrats, Chairman David Marker and Columbia Democratic Club President Neil Quinter, worked together on a proposal -- Plan 3 on the county Web site (www.co.ho.md.us).

"I think our plan, frankly, gives a Democrat a better shot in the Ellicott City district," Quinter said. "I'm foursquare in favor of it."

The Marker-Quinter plan would unite Dorsey Hall with the rest of west Columbia and unify nearly all of Owen Brown village in District 3. It would put Fulton and even areas east of U.S. 29 in the western county's District 5, now held by Republican Allan H. Kittleman. Marker said he allowed the population of each district to vary a bit more from the ideal to unify more communities.

Priscilla M. Hart, a former League of Women Voters president, came up with Plan 2. She said her plan is closer to the ideal for political districts because "the districts themselves are fairly compact. I've tried to use main roads as much as possible so the lines are easily identified."

She also put communities together, Hart said, uniting Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance, Long Reach and Oakland Mills, and Dorsey Hall with other west Columbia villages.

Unlike the Marker-Quinter plan, which has District 1 stretching west halfway to Clarksville, Hart's plan keeps the Ellicott City-Elkridge district along the county's northern tier.

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