Panel OKs political remap reforms

Commission favors process that includes Balto. County Council

February 26, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The commission studying the Baltimore County Council's redistricting process agreed yesterday on the broad outlines for a series of reforms, including more time to redraw maps, additional public input and establishment of an advisory body.

Commission members reached preliminary conclusions after studying how other counties redraw maps and hearing about reform proposals drafted by three county groups.

However, the details - such as how long redistricting should take, how public input should be collected and what role an advisory panel should play - need to be worked out.

The commission was formed in response to the uproar over the County Council's realignment of districts last summer. Yesterday, commission member John A. Donaho said that an advisory panel would "make the process more palatable and insert a certain measure of objectivity."

While commission members made no final decision on the matter, they didn't seem to favor a panel that would make redistricting decisions independent of the County Council.

"The legislature, i.e. the County Council, should make the final decision," said commission member Jervis S. Finney, who is a former councilman.

The stance counters that of a panel organized by Baltimore County Republican Dels. A. Wade Kach and James F. Ports Jr. backing reforms that would take line-drawing out of officials' hands.

Commission members also were wary of setting too many guidelines on how districts should be drawn.

Other groups that have drafted reform proposals have stressed the need to avoid splitting communities. Commission members, however, agreed such specifics should be left out of the county charter.

"The more criteria we put in, the more that's left out," Donaho said. "Presumably, the people who are appointed to the commission are going to have enough sense to find out what the rules are and what's right."

The consensus was that instructions for drawing new lines should not go beyond saying that districts should be compact, contiguous and roughly equal in population.

The commission asked county residents to submit written suggestions by Friday, but has gotten little response. Members plan to compile draft recommendations over the next two weeks and hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. March 25. The hearing's site has not been announced.

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