Unless their community is at risk of being shifted to a new district, most people have no interest in the Howard County Council redistricting process. But that wasn't the case for Ellicott City resident Frank Hecker.
"I have a habit of getting interested in odd topics and getting obsessed with them," he said.
Hecker, 56, became interested in council redistricting last year, before any data was released, a commission was formed or lines were drawn. His curiosity led him to do some research on the history of redistricting in the county and inspired him to write a brief post about it on his blog.
But when Hecker started writing the blog post, he realized he wanted to dig further. And the more he found, the more he wanted to write.
"It ballooned to 10 or 12 (blog posts) and finally ended with 23," Hecker said. "Once I got to the point of seriously finishing I decided, 'Hey, I want to turn it into an e-book.'"
Hecker announced the release of the e-book, titled Dividing Howard: A History of County Council Redistricting in Howard County, Maryland, on his blog Wednesday, Dec. 7. The e-book is available for $2.99 on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
The content of the e-book is the same as his 23-part blog series. It just puts the pieces together all in one place.
Still, Hecker put a lot of work into the series. He spent about two to four hours on each post, meaning he spent more than 100 hours of his free time researching and writing the posts over the past year.
Hecker, a sales engineer for cyber security company IronKey, started blogging seven years ago about Internet technology issues, such as the Mozilla project that led to the creation of the Firefox web browser. After being inspired by other Howard County bloggers, Hecker started writing about local issues in 2010; his redistricting series started in November of that year.
The county's blogging community has embraced Hecker's series and commended him for the hard work he put into each post.
"A lot of us bloggers who sit down and write, we're just sitting down and writing off the top of our heads," Trevor Greene, author of the HoCo Politico blog, said. "It's really inspirational that Frank wrote a book like that and put so much hard work into it. … He wasn't trained as a historian. He doesn't have a background in writing."
Tom Coale, author of the HoCo Rising blog, agreed that it's impressive how much work Hecker put into the series.
"For those of us who are addicted to the hyper local stuff, it was really neat to follow the progression," Coale said. "We have a rich history in the county and the fact that Frank was able to capture that in the blog posts and share it for free in the community was an added benefit to being connected in the blogosphere."
Coale said having the posts together in one place may allow people to read it with a new perspective, but he's most excited about the e-book because Hecker said he plans to donate the proceeds to Voices for Children, a Howard County nonprofit that advocates for best interest of children in court cases.
"I thought that was incredibly generous," Coale said.
Greene, who called Hecker's redistricting series "a local political thriller," said the e-book could serve as a good resource for future county leaders.
The blog series already has served as a resource for council member Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat who was council chairman at the start of the redistricting process earlier this year.
"(Hecker) offers a very insightful perspective on the history of County Council redistricting," Ball said. "It was quite enlightening to see previous political battles that revolved around the redistricting process."
From the blog series, Ball said he learned how the council's past selections of the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission members were politically contentious, something he tried to avoid when forming the commission this year.
"I really sought to have that be a very collaborative process among members and party leaders," he said.
Ball also learned from the blog series that some elements of the redistricting process are impossible to avoid.
"It's an inherently political process and as much as I seek to build consensus, it's very challenging when party politics comes into play," Ball said.
Though local bloggers and politicians have taken an interest in the series, Hecker said he doesn't have high expectations for the sale of his e-book.
"It's a very small community of people that are interested in these things," he said. "If I sell 20 copies, I'd be surprised. If I'd sell 50 or more or 100 or more, it would be beyond my wildest expectations."
Hecker's series ends with the conclusion of the 2001 redistricting process. He said he may update it after the current process concludes, but he hasn't attended any of the meetings or hearings to date.
"There's a lot to be said of leaving the reporting to the professionals," Hecker said.
The County Council is considering legislation that would redraw the boundaries as the Redistricting Commission suggested. A hearing on the bill will be held Monday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.
The council has to approve a plan by March 15 or the commission's plan becomes law.