Take county, divide by five

Mapping to begin of new districts

October 30, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Before drafting a bill that will divide Carroll County into five commissioner districts, Carroll's legislative delegation will take the next month to decide on map options, review residents' comments and tackle last-minute issues, including a residency requirement.

The seven-member delegation - all Republicans - gathered comments at a public hearing last week that drew more than 100 residents. Officials sought opinions on two possible maps and the possibility of a countywide election for the expanded board.

"We want to hear what people think before deliberating on boundaries," said Del. Donald B. Elliott, who sponsored the state bill that led to the 2004 referendum in which Carroll voters overwhelmingly supported expanding the board from three to five members, elected by district.

Candidates will vie for the five seats in next year's election. Winners will take office in December.

"You have a distinct majority in favor of five commissioners elected by district," said Dick Buczek, a resident of Eldersburg. "It would be a mistake to throw out the majority wishes. You would not want the minority to run the county."

The hearing gave residents the opportunity to comment on a proposal by Sen. Larry E. Haines, delegation leader, that would have candidates run to represent a single district, but be elected by voters across the county.

"The hearing was not about controversy, but about dialogue," Haines said. "Our charge is to listen. People are divided on the map, along area lines, and many feel voting by district means they have lost two votes."

Haines has no support from the delegation on his proposal, but several residents spoke in its favor.

Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale said she could not support a countywide election when voters opted for one by district.

"For the most part, what I heard was that voters understood what they were voting for," she said. "We should give them credit for their choice and follow that mandate."

Jerry Brunst of Westminster, who voted against an expanded board, asked that the 2006 election be countywide.

"Please don't take away our right to vote for those who govern us," Brunst said.

James Reter of Westminster said the delegation "can either empower citizens or partially disenfranchise them. You are taking two votes away from every eligible voter."

The delegation must decide on a district map and will be guided by two drafted by the redistricting committee.

"We will likely adopt one or the other," Haines said. "It would be difficult for the delegation to come up with a totally new plan."

The redistricting committee and officials from all eight towns have recommended a map, known as option two, that keeps towns with similar interests together.

Hampstead Mayor Haven Shoemaker, who is also president of the Carroll chapter of the Maryland Municipal League, said, "Ultimately, the delegation will do its own thing. But it would be disappointing to go through the months of redistricting hearings and a comprehensive report, if the delegation substitutes its judgment for that of the committee."

Option two has drawn criticism from Finksburg and South Carroll residents who claim the map splits their communities along major highways.

"Don't split Finksburg down Route 140," said Donald Hoffman, former president of the Finksburg Planning Area Council. "Neither district has a majority of Finksburg residents."

Larry Helminiak of Sykesville said, "The district lines didn't go before the voters. South Carroll belongs together."

In creating the districts, the committee relied on 2000 census figures that show Carroll with a population of nearly 151,000 - current estimates are nearly 170,000 - and used the county's 14 voting districts as guidelines. Both maps created a single district out of Westminster and then divided the remaining county into quarters of near-equal population.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said town residents have mixed feelings about being separated from Eldersburg. Some said the preferred option actually gives South Carroll two commissioners.

"The bigger point is that we should be electing people who will work together as a team for the county as a whole and not dividing the county up into personalized districts," Herman said.

The delegation could consider map one, which the redistricting committee rejected by a vote of 4-to-2. That option created one South Carroll district out of Sykesville and Eldersburg, the county's most populous area. But, it was criticized for separating 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.

Taneytown Councilman James L. McCarron said his constituents have little in common with Manchester and grouping the two areas is a mistake.

"I have nothing against Manchester, but there is no commonality between Taneytown and Manchester," McCarron said. "We have to go through Pennsylvania to get there."

The delegation expects to submit an emergency bill on the expansion at the Jan. 11 opening of the General Assembly, which typically approves local bills as a courtesy. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. could sign it into law within 10 days.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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