GOP's Riley offers charter amendment to redraw districts and expand council

September 14, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Decrying what he called a "perversely political" redistricting process, Douglas B. Riley proposed last night the expansion of the Baltimore County Council from seven to nine seats, the establishment of a citizen commission to redraw district lines and mandatory public hearings on new district maps - all in time for a special election in 2004.

Riley, a Towson Republican and a former councilman who is running for county executive, put forward the first detailed proposal for an amendment to the county charter since a public outcry over County Council redistricting three months ago.

Announcing his plans at a meeting of the Greater Parkville Community Council, Riley said he will solicit input on his amendment and, if there is enough interest, seek the 10,000 signatures it would take to put it on the ballot next year.

Riley's plan would require council lines to be redrawn using new redistricting procedures in 2003, and the election of nine members in 2004, two years before the next scheduled council election.

Riley is not the only politician working on the issue.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, has formed a commission of academics to study redistricting, and Dels. A. Wade Kach and James F. Ports Jr., both Republicans, have compiled a list of names for a committee to offer changes in the process.

Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Democrat, has said the council will convene its own study committee, but will wait until other Maryland jurisdictions have completed redistricting in the early spring.

"I don't want to just wait and see or, even worse, study the issue to death," Riley said. "I want to get moving on a charter amendment that will increase citizen involvement in the redistricting process, that will expand our representation on the County Council and keep our communities - like Parkville and Towson and Reisterstown and Essex - together, with their political clout intact."

The charter requires the county to redraw its district lines after every census, but unlike other Baltimore-area counties, the council is given complete control over the process. The county has no requirements for public input and no mechanism for veto or review.

In May, five council members introduced a redistricting bill containing maps that the public had never seen and that the other two council members saw only hours before the meeting. Residents expressed outrage that the new lines split some communities into two and sometimes three districts.

Riley said his proposed redistricting commission would be dominated by members of neighborhood associations and would be given access to the software councilmen use to draw their maps. The council would be required to hold a public hearing on the commission's plan before proposing changes, he said.

"While [the council] might choose to amend the plan, it will have to do so in the light of day and in the presence of a public that is as informed as the council itself," Riley said. "There will never again be the kind of secret, closed-door deliberations that took place this year."

Gardina said he's waiting for his commission to issue a report but is generally in favor of Riley's recommendations, particularly the idea of a special council election in 2004.

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