Districting issue is dead for time being

June 18, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

All hope of a districting map for Carroll County faded with the closing of the General Assembly's special session last week.

Legislators, coping with the energy crisis, declined to act on a bill that would carve Carroll into five commissioner districts in time for the election this year.

"I had hope, but I would not have bet on it," said Del. Susan W. Krebs, a Republican who represents South Carroll. "I am disappointed that we could not accomplish redistricting for voters and for candidates who had planned to run. We certainly had the time. We sat around for hours last week."

Instead of five commissioners elected by district, a change approved by voters in a 2004 referendum, the electorate will again choose three commissioners, who will run at large.

Without a map, the courts scrapped the expansion of the Board of Commissioners and ordered the election to proceed with three at-large commissioners.

The district map was a local bill that legislators typically approve as a courtesy to colleagues. But the delegation's map choice ran counter to what the districting committee, commissioners, town officials and many residents wanted. Opponents of the delegation's choice made their views known to legislators, and the bill died in a Senate committee in April and again last week.

"We should have taken care of the controversy at home," said Krebs, who favored the more popular map version, in opposition to the majority of the delegation. "I have never seen a local bill go to Annapolis with this much controversy. Things escalated into not getting any map done."

The ensuing frustration among residents prompted the county commissioners to consider placing a referendum for code home rule on the November ballot.

"The commissioners are in a position where we have to do something to clear up all the muddy waters," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "I hope we are not contributing to the confusion. If we do something now, voters will have the chance to accept or reject the idea. We have to give them that opportunity."

Code home rule would give the commissioners more authority on local issues, such as bond bills and nuisance laws. However, it is uncertain whether the board could vote to expand to five members and draw the district maps.

Also uncertain is whether the court will strike the 2004 referendum as unconstitutional because the expansion depended on action by the General Assembly, officials said.

The commissioners will schedule several workshops and five public hearings to educate the public on the ramifications of code home rule. They have until Aug. 21, the deadline for placing the issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"If, after the hearings, we feel that people are not ready for this change, we won't move ahead," Minnich said. "We are trying really hard to get a real sense of what people want."

Educating the electorate, who are intelligent and sophisticated, is critical, Krebs said.

"Most people already think the commissioners have the authority to govern from home," she said. "We should give them the authority to operate effectively on their own turf. We are a Republican county taking local bills to a Democratic assembly, who can use local bills to jerk us around."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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