House-approved district map reaches Senate

Some officials predict Option 1 to move through quickly and with fewer protests

General Assembly

April 02, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

The bill that carves Carroll County into five commissioner districts passed the House of Delegates last week, after languishing more than a month in subcommittee, and is making its way through the Senate.

"It looks like we are going to have a map," said Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Republican who represents parts of Carroll and Frederick counties. "The Senate will pass this bill with the map option chosen by the county delegation."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, a leader of the Carroll delegation, said he expects the bill, which is a map delineating the districts, to move "smoothly and expeditiously" through the Senate.

"Anything can happen, but my Senate colleagues will take care of me," said Haines, a Republican.

The board of county commissioners expands this year from three members, elected at large, to five members, elected by district, according to a 2004 referendum. Until the bill becomes law, no one can file for the commissioner seats.

A controversy over the districts erupted when the delegation chose a map - known as Option 1 - with a 5-to-2 vote against the recommendation of the redistricting committee that worked six months on several maps and ultimately recommended an alternative, Option 2. The mayors of Carroll's eight towns also unanimously supported Option 2.

The majority of delegation members said they favored Option 1 primarily because it gave a greater voice to the more rural areas of northern and western Carroll.

Republican Del. Tanya Thornton Shewell, whose District 5A includes Westminster, North Carroll and Finksburg, said Option 1 would give her constituents three of the five voices on the board of commissioners.

Republican Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, who sponsored the map bill and also represents District 5A, said she based her decision on what she had gathered on Main Street, where most people were more concerned about having one commissioner represent them than they were about lines on a map.

Option 1 places Finksburg in a district with Hampstead and Manchester in a district with Taneytown. The map creates one district in South Carroll and places Mount Airy, New Windsor and Union Bridge in another. On both map options, Westminster occupies one district.

A contingency of county residents and officials, including the three sitting commissioners and four mayors, lobbied the House Environmental Matters Committee members last month for Option 2. It keeps North Carroll in one district, but splits Finksburg along Route 140 and South Carroll along Route 32, giving the county's most populous area two commissioners.

"We pulled out all the stops, and we still could not get the House to turn it down," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, who testified at the hearing. "I was hoping for a silver lining. I thought the House was trying to help us with the delay."

Ross Dangel, spokesman for the Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial liaison between South Carroll communities and county government, said the map will become a campaign issue.

"The object of the delegation map was to empower northern areas of the county," Dangel said. "Clearly the objective was not to give South Carroll two commissioner seats. The map is a litmus test for candidates. They will all be challenged on it."

Although the county legislative delegation submitted the map as an emergency bill, the hearing process and ensuing debate delayed passage and, consequently, the campaign for commissioner, which has a July 3 filing deadline. Had the House moved an altered map bill to the Senate, Haines said he would have rewritten it.

"Of course, I would have changed it back to Option 1," Haines said. "Fortunately, I didn't have to maneuver like that."

Option 2 supporters say they are unsure whether they will continue their arguments in the Senate.

"Everybody has an idea of how we feel about Option 1," said Michelle Jefferson, who organized a petition drive and testified at the House hearing. "We may take a smaller contingency to the Senate hearing this week. We will continue with the calls, e-mails and letters, too."

Others said it may be time to focus on the campaign.

"Our dissatisfaction with the delegation's map choice may have to be settled at the ballot box," Dangel said. "At this late date, we need to get the show on the road to be fair to every candidate. Nobody expected this long a delay."

If the legislative session fails to enact a map, the issue could land in court, or the commissioners might have to run at large.

"An at-large race is not what voters want," Brinkley said. "The Senate will pass a map."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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