Carroll to ask courts to define districts

April 12, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Since the state legislature failed to carve Carroll County into five commissioner districts, county officials decided yesterday to ask the courts to define the district lines.

The court could review two existing maps that each have five districts with equal populations.

"Let's see if the courts can resolve the map issue better and to the satisfaction of residents," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "We will not ask for one map option over another, but people want a resolution."

Candidates, who face a July 3 filing deadline, cannot officially campaign until the districts are set. But there may not be enough time or willingness for the courts to rule on a map, said William R. Varga, assistant attorney general.

"This is asking a judge to step into the legislature's shoes because legislators didn't do their jobs," Varga said.

Contrary to the 2004 referendum that expanded the board from three to five members and stipulated election by district, the county might have to hold an at-large election, he said.

"There is no question that there will be five commissioners," Varga said. "But basically, you have five commissioners with no individual districts to represent. Absent litigation, they will likely run at large. Carroll County would be the district and the top five vote-getters will win."

Kimberly A. Millender, county attorney, said she is reviewing the county's legal options and expects to make recommendations to the commissioners as soon as today. Minnich said he would urge Carroll County Circuit Court to make "a declaratory judgment in a timely manner."

The commissioners appointed a bipartisan redistricting committee that approved a map, known as Option Two, last year. The county delegation submitted a bill with an alternative map, known as Option One.

The legislature has final authority over the redistricting map. The map bill, which languished for several weeks in a House committee before winning approval, made it out of a Senate committee late Monday, the last day of the 2006 session, but it never came to a vote.

"It would have been nice if the delegation could have done what people wanted," said Martin Radinsky, chairman of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee. "They could not get a courtesy bill through the legislature."

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, whose district includes South Carroll, blamed the map failure on the delay in the House.

"It was important for this bill to be done quickly," Kittleman said. "With more time, the Senate would have approved it."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, said recently that he places partial blame for the delay on opposition from a contingent of county residents and officials, including four mayors and all three commissioners, who lobbied the legislature for Option Two.

"This was not a partisan issue," Radinsky said. "It is about what is best for the county."

Option Two outlines one district in North Carroll, but splits Finksburg along Route 140 and South Carroll along Route 32, creating two districts in the county's most populous area.

The county delegation stood by the Option One map, which separates Hampstead and Manchester into two districts and creates one district in South Carroll and another in Finksburg.

Westminster, the county seat, is a separate district on both maps.

"This bill would have passed Monday if the delegation had been willing to compromise," Minnich said. "The delegation's refusal to have any meaningful discussion with opponents of their bill and the testimony against it had an impact."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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