Baltimore County

Marks says he'll keep pressing for redistricting change for 5th District in Towson

During the County Council's work session on Tuesday, Sept. 27, there was a groundswell of support for 5th District Council member David Marks' effort to keep the Country Club of Maryland and the Loch Hill neighborhood within the boundaries of the proposed new 5th District.

Unfortunately for him, it was expressed by residents who felt they would be adversely affected if they were moved from the 5th District to the 6th District — and not by Marks' colleagues on the council.

The council will decide redistricting issues next Monday, Oct. 3, and time is running out on Marks' effort to tweak the district boundaries as proposed by a Redistricting Commission that drew the lines over this past summer. In fact, at Tuesday's work session, there was an undercurrent of tacit support for adopting, "as is," the boundaries proposed for all seven councilmanic districts, despite the desire of Marks and 4th District Council member Ken Oliver to make some changes.

"I think it's a good map and plan for all seven of the districts," said 2nd District Council member Vicki Almond, even as she acknowledged that many on the council might like to tweak the new lines.

"We have a lot of constituents," said Council chairman John Olszewski, who represents the 7th District. "Some will be happy, some not."

By law, the county has to redraw its seven councilmanic districts every 10 years to keep up with the changing census. After a series of hearings and deliberations, the Redistricting Commission offered a plan that's "both lawful and easily defendable," said Tom Peddicord, the council's legal counsel.

The controversy for Marks centers on the commission's proposal to move the entire precinct of 2,300 voters that cast their ballots at Loch Raven Academy from the 5th District into the proposed new 6th District.

The precinct is composed of residents of Loch Hill, Glendale-Glenmont and Fellowship Forest. They object to the transfer, just as the members-owned Country Club of Maryland does — in part because they identify with and are involved in Towson organizations, activities and schools.

Many of them also fear that moving them out of the Towson district eventually will pave the way for school redistricting, which could take their children out of Towson schools.

However, Bob Barrett, an administrator for Baltimore County Public Schools, said during the work session that councilmanic redistricting would have no bearing on school redistricting.

"There is a rule in place that addresses that," he said.

Peddicord added that "there is absolutely no connection whatsoever."

However, Cynthia Jabs, who represented the Idlewylde Community Association, expressed doubts about that. Both school and political boundaries follow natural county boundaries, and both seemed to be formed in the same way, she said.

Some shift in the 5th District must occur. Marks can't keep the entire precinct in the 5th because the population in the district would exceed the legal limit: Within a certain margin, each district must have comparable population numbers.

Marks said he initially thought he could at least appease some of those who objected by splitting the precinct and keeping Loch Hill, the country club and part of Glendale-Glenmont in the 5th.

But the cost of creating a new precinct would have a considerable impact on the county budget, he learned, and the council is unwilling to support the splitting of precincts because of it.

Given that, he said after the session that he considered switching another precinct in the 5th District to another district — possibly Riderwood Hills, West Towson or part of Loch Raven Village.

But a move like that would be impractical, he said. "All it would do is fragment other parts of the greater Towson community."

The eastern part of Towson wants to remain in the district, and he said he's doing his best to accommodate them.

He said he has spent hours on this and has had three or four conversations with his colleagues on the council.

"This is an evolving process," he said, "and I'm not giving up."

Olszewski reminded council members of the looming vote. "We have a week to come up with amendments," he said.

The County Council is scheduled to vote Monday, Oct. 3, on new council boundaries, which become effective in time for the next elections in 2014. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Historic Towson Courthouse, 400 Washington Ave., Towson.

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