Harford Charter Review members discuss redistricting controversy at latest meeting

At the second meeting of the new Harford County Charter Review Board last week, members identified sections of the charter that need further review, including the one dealing with

The county council redistricting process is one of several sections of the charter that need further review, members of the Harford County Charter Review Board said last week.

Kimberly Wagner, one of the charter board's 15 members, said at the group's meeting Thursday evening in Bel Air, they should "address that issue."

Section 205 of the charter mandates that the redistricting commission appointed by the council every 10 years should include two members of each political party that polled at least 15 percent of the total vote for county council seats in the most recent election.

Last November, Democrat candidates for council accounted for less than 15 percent of the total vote. Although local party leaders were offered a single seat on the commission the county council appointed earlier this year, they declined.

The council appointed three Republicans to the commission, which is nearing the end of its work. Democrats sued, but thus far the courts have refused to consider mandating a change in the charter.

During the charter review board meeting, Wagner cited neighbors and colleagues who have suggested 15 percent of registered voters, not just those who actually voted, be the basis for appointment to a redistricting commission.

Wagner, a longtime member of the county's Republican Central Committee, emphasized the redistricting commission issue is something important to the citizens of Harford County and should be discussed further.

Another review board member, James Thornton, who also serves on the Harford County Board of Education, agreed.

"We should definitely take a look at it and determine whether or not it is appropriate or if change is required," he said.

"Big ticket" issues such as redistricting were brought up at the meeting, as retired Circuit Court Judge Maurice Baldwin, who is the board chair, suggested that "nit picky" items be discussed through e-mail correspondence or possibly at future meetings.

In addition to pointing out several charter sections she called "confusing," Wagner also briefly discussed a section that requires county legal notices to be published in two newspapers.

Wagner suggested the law be changed to one newspaper and the Internet.

Board members also referenced several sections that are either outdated, contradictory or confusing and need to be discussed further to determine if should be deleted or rewritten.

For future reference, Nancy Giorno, a retired deputy county attorney who works for the county contractually, handed out a chart that includes all the areas where, over the years, county employees have found conflicts and inconsistencies. Baldwin suggested the next meeting be dedicated to the bigger issues listed in the document.

Also in their discussions Thursday, board members picked out three areas in the charter that need further review from a smaller subcommittee perspective.

The group, which was missing members Jansen Robinson, Cynthia Mumby, District Court Judge Susan Hazlett and Frank Hertsch, decided on a treasury and budget subcommittee, a legislative and executive subcommittee and a planning and zoning subcommittee.

For planning and zoning especially, Baldwin did say he wasn't sure it was the "best idea" to have the county council as the final zoning authority. As originally written and adopted in 1972, the charter gave final zoning authority to the council.

"It's still something that should be explored," Baldwin said.

Given the limited availability of the Colored High School building in Bel Air, Baldwin also set the board's meetings for the first Thursday of every month a 6:30 p.m., giving them four meetings before the end of the year, which he said is "probably enough." The county council is expecting the board to make recommendations for changes in the charter early next year.

As for the subcommittee meetings, Giorno said she wasn't certain, but she didn't think the state's Open Meeting Law applies to those sessions.

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