Woodlawn and Randallstown residents pledged Thursday to work in coming weeks to defeat a proposal to shift the County Council boundary lines surrounding the Social Security Administration headquarters.
More than 60 people, including elected officials and community association representatives, attended a town hall meeting at Woodlawn Community Center.
The Baltimore County redistricting commission has endorsed moving the Woodlawn High School precinct from District 4 to neighboring District 1, home of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Attendees criticized the plan as dollar-driven, diminishing the economic prospects for District 4 while enriching neighboring District 1, which includes Catonsville.
The federal agencies are the county's largest employers, and the state recently approved the creation of a tax-friendly enterprise zone nearby, which is expected to bring more business to the area.
Although both agencies will remain in Woodlawn, residents are concerned that any economic benefit will be seen as a boon to Catonsville and hurt the district's overall economic pursuits. The commission's recommendations are not binding; the County Council will vote on the final map in September.
The council will hold a public hearing on the redistricting recommendations at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 1.
Attendees said they didn't understand why a proposal that would have kept the Social Security headquarters in District 4 and made both districts roughly the same size was rejected.
"Taking that enterprise zone is comparable to giving District 1 a golden parachute, and it's not necessary," said Aaron Plymouth, chairman of the Combined Communities Advocacy Council of Greater Randallstown, which sponsored the forum with three other groups.
Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat who represents District 1, said that he was not able to attend the forum because of a scheduling conflict. He supports the commission's recommendation because it would bring greater diversity to his district and unite the Security Square business corridor.
Others expressed concern that the proposal would dilute voter impact in the majority African-American district.
"It's wrong," said Betty Tucker-Sabb, a Randallstown resident. "The 4th District is a very powerful political unit, and I don't think it should be diluted to the point where they want to dilute us."
Added Venoris Scurry, who also lives in Randallstown, "I knew it was going to have an impact, but I didn't realize how much in terms of schools and jobs. I'm going to do my part to make sure this is done fairly and equitably."
Randallstown activist Ella White Campbell urged those in attendance to prepare to bring the issue to referendum if necessary. "This is about voting strength. You have to remember that the last two county executives were elected by this district."
The meeting was also sponsored by the Liberty Road Community Council, Powhatan Farms Improvement Association and the Gwynn Oak Community Association. The organizations represent more than 60 community associations and tens of thousands of District 4 residents. Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Democrat, represents the district.
Ralph Wright, Oliver's appointee to the redistricting commission, criticized the plan when it was announced a few weeks ago, saying the numbers "don't jibe." District 4 would become the smallest council district under the commission's plan.
In the past decade, District 4 saw the most growth, ending up with more than 117,000 residents. District 1, its neighbor to the south, had 108,360 residents. The ideal district size, as determined by the commission, would be about 115,290.
Oliver offered a counterproposal that would move the Featherbed Lane precinct — which has 4,130 residents — to District 1. Moving the 6,260 residents in the Woodlawn High School precinct would create a difference of more than 3,800 residents. On the redistricting map, neither precinct seems to offer a clear advantage in making the district less sprawling.
The new map would take effect in 2014.