Commission recommends changes for all council districts

The Councilmanic Redistricting Commission has selected a map to send to the County Council that makes changes to all five council districts.

Nearly 26,000 residents, or roughly 9 percent of the county's population, according to the 2010 census data the commission used, would be moved to a new district under the plan.

The vote, taken Wednesday, Oct. 5, was 4-3 along party lines favored by Democrats. The County Council will schedule a public hearing on the plan before discussing any changes. The council has to approve a plan by March 15, 2012 or the commission's plan becomes law.

The plan, called Map 20, is a tweaked version of Map 200, one of three proposals that the commission presented at a public hearing last month. The major change between Map 200 and Map 201 is that the Columbia village of Dorsey's Search would not be split between Districts 4 and 1. Instead, the entire village would be in District 1.

"I think it is tremendous, and I appreciate that the commission considered keeping all of Dorsey's Search together," said Tom Coale, the village's Columbia Association Board representative, who spoke at the public hearing to request the village not be split. He explained that having one district representative for one village makes village representation easier.

Coale did not have a problem with Dorsey's Search no longer being in a district with other Columbia villages.

"It was separated before," he said. " Dorsey's Search used to be in District 1. I think that there have been enough great representatives from council District 1, and I have no doubt they will hear our voice just as they would any other community that they represent."

Bringing down barriers

Democrat David Marker, the commission member who created Map 200 and Map 201, along with help from his fellow members, said he's pleased with the end result.

"I really think that the public hearing was eye opening," he said. "The level of distrust, of misunderstanding by the people in (certain districts) … were really pretty shocking."

Marker is referring to some Ellicott City residents who didn't want to be moved from District 1 to District 2 because they didn't want to be associated with Columbia. One resident, in an email sent shortly before the hearing, and read by Marker, referred to Columbia as a ghetto.

"It really kind of made lots of us feel that it was even more important to have Columbia represented in more of the council districts to help bring down those barriers," Marker said.

Commission chairman Larry Walker, also a Democrat, said he asked himself: "Do we feed the monster of separation or do we look to try to develop a Howard County that is unified and one community?"

He said he thinks mixing Columbia and Ellicott City and other communities between districts allows them to consider other perspectives and gives the representatives a better opportunity to represent the whole county.

"The sentiment that we're not like them … there's no place in our culture, in my opinion, for that kind of approach to how we live in communities," Walker said.

Not all commission members, however, agreed with that reasoning. Joan Becker, a Republican member, said that further mixing communities and redrawing boundaries based on subjective opinion is not what the commission should be doing.

"Our job is to keep the communities that have common boundaries and common issues together," she said. "That's what constitutionally we're required to do, not mix it up."

Changes by district

District 1 — currently the most populated district, represented by Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson — would lose about 6,800 residents to District 2 and about 2,500 residents to District 5 under the plan.

District 1 would also gain about 6,500 residents from District 4, which includes the entire Columbia village of Dorsey's Search.

District 3 — currently the least populated district, represented by Columbia Democrat Jen Terrasa — would gain about 1,400 residents from District 2 and nearly 3,000 residents from District 5.

District 5 would lose about 5,600 residents to District 4 so all but a small section of the district in precinct 05-20 would be west of Route 29.

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