Council district changes proposed

Last-minute proposals by three members complicate vote

November 28, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Unable to resist the temptation to tinker, three Howard County Council members offered last-minute changes to a proposed council redistricting plan last night, complicating a scheduled final vote.

The changes are not major, but political sensitivities over the new council district boundaries are such that virtually anything could set off a fight at Monday night's vote.

West Columbia Democrat Mary C. Lorsung proposed two changes she characterized as "not politically charged."

She said those changes would make her District 4 more compact for whoever wins the post next year. Lorsung has said she will retire after two council terms.

She wants to keep in her district parts of Fulton north of Route 216 scheduled to become part of District 5 and leave areas north of Route 108 in District 5. Together, the changes would mean a net change of 70 voters, she said. "It does deal better with the compactness standard," she said.

Lorsung's proposals might depend on her willingness to support at least some of the changes suggested by the GOP's Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon.

The plan debated by the County Council last night was approved by a seven-member citizens commission on a 4-3 party-line vote Sept. 20.

A public hearing was held Nov. 5, and the council is to vote on a plan Monday.

Council district lines must be redrawn after each federal census to keep the districts roughly equal in population and preserve the one-person, one-vote principle.

Kittleman, who represents the western county, wants to add 2,707 voters from Scaggsville and the southern county to Democrat Guy J. Guzzone's District 3. That would help even the population variations between districts and also might boost Republicans' chances of winning the seat from Guzzone in next year's election, which would give them control of the council.

Merdon, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, said he, too, wants a more compact district with unified communities by keeping part of Font Hill, in Ellicott City, in his district instead of in Kittleman's, while putting a slice of Elkridge back into C. Vernon Gray's District 2.

"I really think District 1 is not compact in any way," he said, criticizing the plan under consideration.

The proposed changes appeared to anger Gray. "I'm going into Elkridge. You can take back parts of Elkridge," he said to Merdon. Gray said later that he has compromised enough and isn't ready to agree to more.

He and Guzzone said they would not accept last-minute changes in the commission's plan that would affect their districts.

Kittleman and Merdon said they probably will vote against the redistricting plan unless the districts' populations are more evenly matched.

If the council can't agree on a plan by March, the commission's plan becomes law. If the five members decide Monday night that they are making "substantial" changes in the commission's plan, another public hearing will be required and a later vote will be scheduled.

The plan approved by the Howard County Councilmanic Redistricting Commission mainly calls for shifting the districts counterclockwise, bringing Fulton and Scaggsville into western District 5 and shifting District 1 farther west, north of Route 108.

The commission plan provoked complaints from Republicans that the dominant Democrats allowed too much leeway in population variations between the new districts.

Ideally, according to last year's census, each council district should have 49,568 residents. The Democrats' plan varied from 47,801 in District 2, covering east Columbia and Jessup, to 51,386 in District 5, covering the rural western county.

Republicans accused Democrats of using their partisan advantage to pack GOP voters into two council districts in an attempt to retain control of three districts covering Columbia and environs, and thus control of the County Council.

Democrats replied that they wanted to keep communities together while keeping the district populations within the 5 percent difference usually allowed by the courts. If they controlled the council, Republicans would do the same thing, Democrats said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.