Balto. County redistricting commission could produce fourth proposal for changes

3 other plans are backed by officials, candidates

January 28, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

A new commission charged with evaluating the Baltimore County Council redistricting process will enter a crowded field when it convenes next month - three reform proposals, all backed by county officials or candidates for public office, are already complete.

The council named the commission of elder statesmen and other prominent residents last week. Members have said they want to see a process that is less secretive and based more on standards to ensure that new district lines reflect community demographics rather than political considerations.

The commission is charged with reporting its findings by May 1, in time to get an amendment to the county charter on the November ballot if that course is recommended.

On Friday, Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat whose district was changed significantly against his will, released recommendations from a panel of academics he convened in the fall to study redistricting and propose a new system.

The proposal shares many of the features of the two other plans being advanced: a bipartisan commission to draft map proposals, more time to complete the process and mandatory public hearings.

Last summer, activists from around the county complained that the council drafted a plan behind closed doors that split communities. The most vocal opposition was heard from Towson, which was split among three districts in the original plan but mostly reunited in the final document.

Douglas B. Riley, a Republican candidate for county executive, made the first proposal in September. In addition to procedural elements similar to Gardina's, his plan would increase the size of the council to nine members and require new maps for a special 2004 election.

In the fall, Dels. A. Wade Kach and James F. Ports Jr., both Republicans who are considering running for county offices, began meetings with community members to draft another proposal.

Their recommendations - a bipartisan commission to draft the maps, mandatory public hearings and greater deference to keeping communities intact - will be ready for circulation as petitions soon, Ports said.

The commission's chairman, John V. Murphy, a lawyer who served on the County Council from 1974 to 1978, said he was eager to see the other proposals.

"I'd love to hear what they have to say," Murphy said. "Eventually, we'll make some recommendations to the council, and whether the council would take that recommendation as opposed to some other recommendation, I don't know."

Ports said he and Kach will try to get their proposal on the ballot as a charter amendment regardless of what the commission does. It takes 10,000 signatures or the support of five of seven County Council members to get such an amendment on the ballot.

If the council endorses an amendment proposal from the commission, it would also have to be approved by voters. That means the November ballot could contain more than one proposal.

Gardina said he'll wait for the council-sponsored commission to make its recommendations, in hopes the panel will develop suggestions similar to his group's. Riley also said he hopes to combine his ideas with other plans so only one proposal appears on the ballot. He said he'll likely try to make expanding the council a separate ballot question.

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