Redistricting compromise sought GOP County Council members skeptical


Although County Council Democrats are ready to sit down with council Republicans and work out a new redistricting plan, the Republicans may not be.

"We have reviewed your proposal for creating a task force to examine the council redistricting dilemma," council members Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said in a Dec. 14 memo to Republicans Darrel Drown and Charles C. Feaga.

"We do not believe that we can avoid our official responsibility at this point by asking others to come up with a plan," the Democratic memo said. What Democrats want, instead, is for the council to hold a two- to three-hour work session to begin resolving the issue.

"We are confident . . . that there is room for compromise," the Democrats told the Republicans in their memo.

At issue, is the council redistricting plan enacted by a 3-2 vote along party lines in December 1991. The plan was ruled "constitutionally defective and invalid" Nov. 6 by Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr.

Since then, the council has been fretting about whether to go forward with its appeal of the judge's decision.

The problem for the council is that an appeals court can expand its inquiry and rule on more than just the redistricting case. Judge Sybert objected not to the boundaries, but to the council's use of a resolution to enact the boundaries.

An appeals court could question the way the council uses resolutions rather than bills to legislate such things as road closings, water and sewer extensions, and bond authorizations.

In voiding the resolution, Judge Sybert said the council uses resolutions as legislation that is either temporary or administrative. Redistricting was neither, he said.

A second potential problem is that Judge Sybert allowed the council to be a party to the lawsuit. That decision is being appealed by the two Republicans.

Mr. Drown, R-2nd, and Mr. Feaga, R-5th, are calling for a four-member committee to work out a compromise and send it to the council for approval. The committee would include representatives of each party's local central committee.

The three council Democrats asked County Solicitor Barbara Cook last week to take over the appeal in order to save the county money. Their request is ironic in that it was a legal opinion from Ms. Cook that caused the Democrats to seek outside counsel in the first place. Ms. Cook had told County Executive Charles I. Ecker that, in her opinion, redistricting could only be done by bill.

"What all this means," said Council Chairwoman Pendergrass, "is that we have got to sit down and solve the problem. I feel really strongly about that."

Ms. Pendergrass had hoped to have such a meeting before the holidays, but council members have full calendars between now and January and were unable to find a time to meet.

C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, chief architect of the council redistricting plan, said he is willing to discuss redistricting with the Republicans, but he did not sign the request.

He agrees with Ms. Pendergrass and Mr. Farragut that there is no provision in the charter for a task force to deal with redistricting.

Mr. Feaga doubts an agreement will be easily reached.

The Democrats "have not shown any willingness to compromise" before now, he said. "When management and unions don't get along, they sometimes bring in someone else. I would trust a committee. It's the only reasonable thing to do at this point," Mr. Feaga said.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Ms. Pendergrass said. "I know we have to stop writing memos and start talking."

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