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Howard council undecided over redistricting map

Panel has until March 15 to approve changes

By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

8:56 AM EST, January 28, 2012

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Members of the Howard County Council are divided over what changes they would like to see in a proposed map of council districts.

The council has until March 15 to approve changes, or a redistricting commission-recommended map will become law.

At a work session Monday, each council member seemed to have different ideas about where the map's boundaries should be drawn.

Councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat representing District 1, offered her own proposal in an attempt to address concerns expressed by residents of the Wheatfield neighborhood of Ellicott City.

"In my view, we had one community that was extremely upset," Watson said, saying the council's focus should be on that community.

At several redistricting hearings, some Wheatfield residents turned out to protest the commission's proposal to move them from Watson's district to District 2, represented by Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat.

Residents said they felt they would be separated from their community, which includes the Long Gate Shopping Center and a volunteer fire station. District 2, which covers parts of Columbia, has different community issues, they said.

Watson's map would, among other changes, also move Dorsey Hall from Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty's District 4 to Watson's.

But Sigaty argued at Monday's session that the Dorsey Hall village board testified in favor of "being part of Columbia" and staying in her district.

Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, suggested looking at some of the other maps the commission considered. He suggested a version that would keep Dorsey Hall in District 4 and keep Wheatfield in District 1.

Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, a North Laurel Democrat, spoke in favor of the commission's map. "I think I would prefer the well-thought-out commission map," she said, saying it is the most familiar to residents and had won the panel's support.

Ball agreed. "I think there is a reason we appointed a commission. … That's a fair starting point," Ball said. Making big changes so late in the process would be upsetting to residents, he said.

But Fox argued that the commission's map was the result of "a partisan vote." Some of the other maps do a better job of keeping neighborhoods together and keeping the district populations equal, he said.

Terrasa countered, "We could go street by street and change every one of these." Any map would have its critics, she said.

The council is scheduled to vote Feb. 6 on a map, but it could vote to wait until March 5.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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