2 in Carroll County seek to overturn redistricting order

At issue is plan to elect commissioners

April 28, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

Two Carroll County residents, one of them an official in the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., have gone to court to overturn an agreement that settled a long-running political feud about how to draw districts from which commissioners are to be elected this fall.

The election has been in the throes of uncertainty since the General Assembly recessed without approving a map that would create the five commissioner districts called for in a referendum approved by voters in 2004. The referendum had expanded the number of commissioners from three to five and required them to be elected by district.

Last week, a consent order was filed in Carroll Circuit Court that settled a lawsuit and called for a district map based on the recommendations of a redistricting committee created by the 2004 referendum.

The map, Option Two, was opposed by Carroll's all-Republican state delegation. The delegation favored a map splitting Hampstead and Manchester into two districts and making one district out of South Carroll.

One resident seeking to overturn last week's order is Joseph M. Getty, a former delegate from Manchester and now policy director for Ehrlich. Getty was one of two members of the redistricting committee to reject the Option Two map, aligning himself with the delegation.

He said the county Board of Elections doesn't have the authority to establish the districts called for in the consent order.

"My concern was there was no notice to the public, no hearing, no adverse parties in the original case," Getty said. " ... The heart of the issue is basic constitutional separation of powers, which reserve that power to the legislature itself."

Candidates can still file with the Board of Elections, but they won't know what their district will look like by November. Three candidates have filed.

"We're not stopping the process," said Gail Carter, the county's deputy election director. "But we would like to have some resolution to it."

Getty is joining with James Harris, a Westminster resident, to appeal the election board agreement. Harris could not be reached for comment.

Unclear is whether the appeal will be heard by the Court of Special Appeals or be expedited to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Richard C. Murray, attorney for the county Board of Elections, said the case should be accelerated so the election can get under way. Lawyers in the attorney general's office also agreed the case could proceed directly to the Court of Appeals.

"The Court of Appeals could immediately transfer the case to itself," Murray said. "They are generally aware of cases that are in public interest and worthwhile of expediting."

But attorneys disagree about whether this case falls under the state's election law or if it is subject to the standard 30-day appeals process. Under election law, residents would have had only five days to appeal the April 19 Circuit Court order that settled the lawsuit.

Dana Lee Dembrow, the Sykesville resident and former Montgomery County delegate who filed the original lawsuit, said he hopes the Court of Appeals would hear the case within two weeks.

"I don't want to dillydally," Dembrow said. "The sooner we get this over with, the sooner the lines are drawn in concrete, and we can go forward with district elections."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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