State Sen. Joe Getty (R-Dist 5) this week reiterated his concerns about a Maryland Court of Appeals filing by three commissioners and three delegates to challenge the state legislative redistricting — saying that he believes use of the county attorney and county tax dollars for the fight raises ethics questions.
Getty said he didn't have an issue with officials filing the challenge as individuals, but "I don't think they should use taxpayer dollars" for it.
But Board President Doug Howard defended using the services of County Attorney Tim Burke in the matter, saying there's "no question" that the case falls under the commissioners' official capacity.
And on May 10, Burke told the commissioners he'll put together a "good faith" estimate of what he thinks the suit might cost the county.
Early this month, commissioners Howard, David Roush and Richard Rothschild voted to join a petition with Dels. Susan Krebs (R-Dist. 9B), Nancy Stocksdale (R-Dist. 5A) and Don Elliott (R-Dist. 4B) to challenge the redrawing of district lines in Carroll that, they said, would weaken the county's political clout in Annapolis.
The petition claims that the state-approved plan "packs" four current delegates into one district vying for three seats, and places other areas of the county in districts that will likely be dominated by neighbor counties — namely Howard and Frederick.
But at the commissioners' joint meeting with the delegation on May 3, Getty told the commissioners and delegates that he believed the petition is inappropriate because, "as written, you are six individuals filing in the Court of Appeals. ... How is the county attorney representing private individuals?"
Getty said the board doesn't have the authority to sue the state; and if members of the board or the delegation petition as individuals, they shouldn't use the county attorney to do it.
The initial filing was $50, but Getty suggested that taking a case to the Court of Appeals could cost $30,000 to $50,000, and he said a similar challenge to the redistricting in 2000 cost the Republican Party some $210,000 in legal fees.
This week Howard said he hoped to allay some of that concern with a proposal to cap the county expense at $1,000. Under his proposal, if it exceeded that, the board would have to take a new vote to approve it.
But at the commissioners' May 10 meeting, Burke suggested a vote on that would be premature, and said he'd give the commissioners an estimated cost with a week or 10 days so they could consider it.
'Packed, stacked' petition
This week Getty said that even if the commissioner/delegate challenge is successful, the Court of Appeals would send the redistricting map back to the General Assembly, where he believes it would be tweaked without much benefit for Carroll.
He said another petition — filed by a group of citizens from various parts of the state, including at least one from Carroll — has a better chance of challenging the statewide redistricting plan because it makes a case that the redistricting committee appointed by Gov.Martin O'Malley"packed and stacked" districts not only to weaken Republican votes, but also consolidate black voters.
He called that a "sophisticated" argument, and said, "That's something the court should really consider."
As for the commissioner/delegate challenge, Getty said it's not too late for those involved to make it more palatable — by simply changing counsel from the county attorney to a private attorney, and having the individuals involved foot the costs.
He said filings for a "substitute counsel" happen all the time in court cases, and "that would certainly be an option that would satisfy my concerns."
In response, Howard didn't dismiss that possibility — and in fact suggested that Getty himself would make a good attorney to represent the commissioners and delegates in the petition.
"If that was something he's interested in, we would certainly talk to him about that," Howard said.
Still, Howard didn't back down from the idea that county government, as an entity, has a stake in the redistricting fight. He said in South Carroll, much of that area will likely be represented by a delegate who resides in Howard County.
He said a Howard County representative would likely agree with Carroll on most broad issues, but on specific projects — such as the widening of Route 32 and the development of the Warfield Cultural and Commerce Center in Sykesville — he felt a county-based representative would be more of an advocate.
He also said in speaking to constituents about the shift in district lines, many are still unaware of the plan adopted by the General Assembly, and are "amazed and outraged that this is going to happen."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun