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Harford redistricting commission recommends joint Aberdeen, Havre de Grace council map; county council gets final say

The question of whether Aberdeen and Havre de Grace should be in the same council district will now go to the Harford County Council after a redistricting commission voted to recommend a modified version of the map the cities proposed, ending weeks of debate.

Passing 3-2 at a Monday meeting, a plan combining Havre de Grace and Aberdeen will be recommended to the county council, which will ultimately decide how the districts are drawn.

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Christina Bracknell, Jim Thornton and Mustafa Sidik, chair of the advisory commission, voted in favor of the modified map, while Erik Robey and Wayne Goddard voted against it. Three of five options made it up for a vote before the commission, but only the modified option passed with more than 50% of the vote. It was the only map Sidik, the lone independent on the commission, supported.

This proposed redistricting plan combining Havre de Grace and Aberdeen into one district will be recommended to the Harford County Council after a Sept. 27 vote by a redistricting committee.
This proposed redistricting plan combining Havre de Grace and Aberdeen into one district will be recommended to the Harford County Council after a Sept. 27 vote by a redistricting committee.

The vote went largely along party lines. Bracknell, a Democrat, said the cities’ modified map got her support because it conformed with the county’s charter, which requires districts to be contiguous, compact and close to the same populations.

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Thornton, another Democrat, agreed and said mutual representation would better serve the cities’ citizens on the council. But Robey and Goddard — both Republicans — said the map could lead to conflicts of interest and was the result of giving undue consideration to the few who spoke in favor of the plan.

The map the commission voted to recommend strongly resembles the map proposed by the cities and combines Havre de Grace and Aberdeen into one council district while making minor adjustments to others. The consolidated district would contain almost an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, according to Dave’s Redistricting, the tool used to create the map.

According to the county charter, the commission’s report must be presented to the county council by Friday, and the council has between 15 and 30 days to hold a public hearing on it. If no other redistricting law has been enacted 70 days from the plan’s presentation to the council, it is adopted as it stands.

Sidik said he was conflicted on voting for the cities’ modified map, but did so because it created compact districts that were in line with the cities’ testimony to the board. While he understood the others’ concerns with the map, he could not ignore testimony from supporters of the plan. He was concerned that the map would remove councilman Robert Wagner’s home from the district he represents but said he trusted the county council to make prudent changes to the commission’s recommendation.

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“While I can understand the logic of the ‘squeaky wheel’ argument, I cannot discount the elected representatives of these people coming and testifying,” he said.

Robey said the map placed most of its focus on consolidating the cities into one district and did not adequately consider the rest of the county.

“When they drew that map, they looked specifically at their cities of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace,” he said. “Our job as commissioners up here … was to look at the entire county and put a map together that made sense for all residents in Harford County, not just two of the municipalities.”

Robey’s proposal, which failed by a 3-2 vote against it, would have lumped Havre de Grace in with the rural District D and kept the two municipalities separate. He said the two cities’ characters were different — Havre de Grace relies on tourism, while Aberdeen welcomes industry and growth — so it did not make sense to include them in the same district, beyond any conflicts they may have from sharing a council representative and their geographic proximity.

Robey’s plan would also have created a contiguous district for Havre de Grace. On the existing council map, the city is only connected to the rest of its district over a body of water, and the city has said it likely does not meet the contiguity requirements laid out in the charter.

Robey said his plan was divorced from politics and that he looked at the county as a whole when crafting his map. Putting Democratic-leaning Havre de Grace in the conservative north county district would have made it much more difficult for Democrats to win two seats on the council, which would be representation proportional to their population in the county, according to the tool used to create the map.

Goddard also voted against the cities’ modified map, saying he felt it was unlikely the council would adopt it and that it would be vulnerable to legal challenges. He previously said that the cities’ proposed map runs afoul of a clause of the Maryland Constitution, which requires that political districts give “due regard” to “natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.”

While Havre de Grace’s city attorney offered a refutation of his argument at a previous meeting, Goddard said he is confident in his legal analysis of the issue. He is a lawyer by training.

Also of concern to Goddard was the effects the cities’ plan could have on Wagner, who represents Aberdeen. Under the cities’ proposal, he would no longer live in the district he represents. Redrawing an incumbent out of their district, he said, amounts to gerrymandering.

“I think they’re really trying to address a political problem of not being heard from the council with a redistricting solution,” he said. “I think that is the classic example of gerrymandering.”

Adam Rybczynski, the legislative liaison for Havre de Grace, said the city applauded the commission’s decision, calling it a “historic moment,” for the county.

“We believe the map they approved to recommend to the county council is reflective of the changes the citizens of Harford County want and deserve,” Rybczynski said.

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said the cities are prepared to address any concerns from the council and are confident in their map.

“Aberdeen and Havre de Grace remain optimistic that the product of the county council will be a fair, compact and contiguous map that puts Aberdeen and Havre de Grace together,” he said. “We think we will be able to work with the county council to address any reservations they have about that plan.”

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