Governor's panel hosts rescheduled hearing on state redistricting

The Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee — tasked with recommending a plan for new district lines for state legislative districts — heard testimony from 30 residents on Monday night, with most urging the five-member committee to keep tight-knit communities together and avoid gerrymandering.

The meeting, held at the Randallstown Community Center, was the only public hearing in Baltimore County for residents to voice opinions to the panel on the legislative and congressional redistricting.

Ken Anderson, president of the Pine Valley/Valleywood Community Association, spoke on behalf of his Timonium neighbors in urging the committee to unite Timonium in one legislative district.

Greater Timonium Community Council President Eric Rockel lamented the fact that the Timonium area falls in four legislative districts, an alignment that he said, "doesn't serve the community."

Many citizens also warned against the gerrymandering they believe manifested itself in the process 10 years ago.

State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, one of five committee members present at the meeting, was a frequent target of criticism for his role in the last round of redistricting.

David Green said gerrymandering that took place was like "termites," doing its damage where people can't see it.

"And Mr. Miller," he said to the senate president, "you will be known as a serial gerrymanderer."

The governor's committee has been holding public hearings around the state. The Baltimore County meeting was initially scheduled for Aug. 27 at Towson University, but was canceled because of Hurricane Irene.

Andrew Ratner, spokesman for the state department of planning, said Monday's meeting time and location wasn't the first choice.

"Scheduling this was difficult within the time frame," Ratner said. "The special session of the legislature meets Oct. 17, so you need time for the committee to do its work between now and then. We want to make sure the committee has enough time to analyze and process these comments. If we pushed it too far back, you wouldn't be able to give those comments their due."

The rescheduled date was announced on Sept. 7. The Baltimore County Republican Central Committee issued a statement Monday questioning why citizens were given five day's notice for a meeting that affects the next 10 years of county politics.

"Five days notice is not only unacceptable, but Randallstown is an inconvenient location to constituents in the eastern part of Baltimore County," said County Councilman David Marks, a Republican, in the release. "I find it hard to believe that no space was available in Towson, where the original hearing was scheduled."

Steve Kolbe, chairman of the BCRCC, said the lack of notice "undoubtedly will call into question whether the governor has met the constitutional requirement to hold these hearings."

Three representatives from the BCRCC were able to make it to the meeting, as did Linda Dorsey Walker, a representative for the Baltimore County Democrats.

"It's all about being flexible," she said.

Marks believes that the county redistricting process, in which several small communities have been redistricted against their will, could look tame by comparison.

"I think [the state redistricting process] will be far more disruptive than the county," Marks said. "The partisanship is far worse in Annapolis."

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