Redistricting committee endorses new system

Balto. Co. Council would cede drawing power

April 06, 2002|By Andrew Green | Andrew Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council's committee on redistricting endorsed wholesale changes yesterday to the re-mapping process that angered residents last summer.

A few details have not been finalized, but the committee will recommend a charter amendment to take the initial drawing of district maps, done after every census, out of the County Council's hands. Instead, a separate commission would hold public hearings, study the data and propose maps.

Four other re-mapping plans, all backed by potential or declared candidates for county offices, follow the same outline. In the details, the council-sponsored commission would be more conservative in its approach.

Most of the other plans took the power to form a redistricting commission out of the council's hands. In some proposals, commission members would be picked by the political parties' central committees. In others, they would be chosen by neighborhood groups.

The council's committee decided to let the County Council choose them, but they are also considering allowing the county executive to choose one member. Committee members are still discussing the number of members but have decided against having one per council district, out of a fear that each councilman would appoint someone to look out for his interests alone.

"We've got to have some cooperation among the councilmen and that way have people with more acceptance in the community," said committee member Sanford V. Teplitzky. "If there are seven members, the public's concern that this is just a way to keep the incumbent in there indefinitely is validated."

The committee also decided that the council should ultimately have to approve the redrawn maps. One of the reform proposals, spearheaded by Dels. A. Wade Kach and James F. Ports Jr., would give total authority to the commission. In other Maryland counties, a redistricting commission's plan becomes law unless the County Council votes otherwise.

Regardless of what the committee recommends, Kach and Ports have vowed to gather signatures and get their proposal, formed out of a series of community meetings, on the November ballot.

That effort recently suffered a setback, though, in a routine review of the petition by County Attorney Edward J. Gilliss.

Gilliss said that when he reviewed the Kach-Ports petition, he thought the language in it was too specific to be included in the charter. Some of the provisions, he said, are things that should be addressed in the county code, but citizens don't have the right to petition changes to the code.

Kach and Ports could ignore Gilliss' warning, collect signatures and go to court if their petition is declared invalid.

"But we don't have the money to fight city hall and go to court," Ports said. "They're taking away my right and our rights as citizens to take this to petition because we can't afford to get there."

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