Panel approves redrawn districts

Committee chose between two maps, tried to link like areas

July 03, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The map of Carroll County's five newly carved commissioner districts places towns with common interests together, melds two major growth areas and keeps the Westminster environs as a single jurisdiction.

Carroll voters decided in November to expand the board of commissioners from three members elected at large to five members elected by district. The plan must win approval from Carroll's legislative delegation, who would take it to the General Assembly during the 2006 session.

Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines, delegation leader, said Friday that he can support the map but he will recommend to the General Assembly an amendment that calls for an at-large election.

"I am not concerned about boundary lines," Haines said Friday. "The big issue is whether voters are satisfied with voting for one commissioner. If people want to vote for all five, we could introduce a bill defining the five districts and giving all voters the opportunity to vote for all five. Each commissioner would represent a district but would be elected by all the voters."

In response to a query from Haines, Maryland Assistant Attorney General Katherine Rowe said the legislature could approve a bill allowing commissioners to be elected "countywide, whether from districts or at large" without a referendum.

"A countywide election would reduce regionalism and make each candidate accountable to all the voters," Haines said.

The delegation will review the committee's recommendation and schedule a public hearing early this fall.

"The committee held meetings all around the county, but there was little input from citizens," Haines said. "I want to find out how voters really feel. Many have told me they want to vote for all five commissioners."

The seven-member redistricting committee held several workshops, many of them sparsely attended, throughout the county. The panel voted 4-2 Thursday -- Maurice E. Wheatley was absent -- on a district map, known as option two. The map, which the county's eight municipalities unanimously supported, closely resembles one drawn twice in the 1990s for charter efforts that failed at the polls. It keeps towns with similar interest together but splits Finksburg along Route 140 and separates Sykesville along Route 32.

"This map does the best job honoring communities of interest throughout the county," said Thomas V. McCarron, committee member.

In creating the districts, the committee relied on 2000 census figures that show Carroll with a population of nearly 151,000. The group used the county's 14 voting districts as guidelines and avoided any split in precincts. Both maps created a Westminster district and then divided the remaining county into quarters of near equal population.

Committee members Joseph M. Getty and David R. Peloquin favored option one, a map drawn by Wheatley, who submitted the original version of his map at the committee's first meeting in March. It separated towns in the North Carroll area, placing Hampstead with Gamber and Finksburg and locating Manchester in a district that included Taneytown and the county's more rural areas. It also created a South Carroll district out of Sykesville and Eldersburg, the county's most populous area.

"This option gives Finksburg and Eldersburg, which have no municipal representation, each one commissioner and a municipality," Peloquin said. "These areas have growth issues for which they now have little representation."

Most of the about 50 people attending the final committee meeting supported option two, although a few Finksburg residents dissented.

"Finksburg is the gateway community to Carroll County on Route 140," said Jim Johnson, chairman of the Finksburg Planning Area Council, who supported option one. "Dividing it hinders efforts to make it cohesive."

Richard Bonito of Hampstead pushed for option two because it kept the North Carroll communities of Hampstead and Manchester together.

"Unfortunately, there is not one option that will satisfy everybody, but the overwhelming greater benefit is with option two," he said.

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