6 months of redistricting negotiations end with council still at loggerheads


County Council Democrats and Republicans plan this month to pick up their two-year redistricting battle where they left it -- at loggerheads.

Six months of closed-door negotiations aimed at compromise ended last week when Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, and Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, called it quits and put competing redistricting plans on the council's legislative agenda.

"I came real close to introducing this same map in April," Mr. Feaga said. "I thought we would have something by that time, but there were no maps I could support. Every map I looked at looked gerrymandered."

Mr. Feaga was talking about maps being exchanged between Ms. Pendergrass and Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd.

The council asked Ms. Pendergrass and Mr. Drown to work out a compromise after a Circuit Court judge ruled in November that a districting plan favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans was illegal because it was passed by resolution instead of as a council bill.

The council took the resolution route in December 1991 after County Executive Charles I. Ecker vetoed the council's districting bill a month earlier. Unlike bills, resolutions cannot be vetoed.

With only a 3-to-2 majority on the council, Democrats need GOP support to make their redistricting plan veto-proof. They could seek that support from either of the two Republicans on the council or make the plan agreeable enough to the Republican county executive that he wouldn't want to veto the plan.

The Democrats appear to have targeted Mr. Ecker.

"The new plan addresses concerns expressed by the executive in his veto message," Ms. Pendergrass said in a statement outlining the Democrats' latest proposal. "The plan improves on the vetoed plan by better maintaining communityboundaries, narrowing the range of population among the districts and providing more compact districts."

Mr. Drown, who had worked privately with Ms. Pendergrass and representatives from each party since January to come up with a compromise, said he was "taken back" by the chairwoman's proposal.

"This is not a compromise," he said. "I assume it's raw politics. I just don't know why we stopped the process. I assume [the Democratic plan] will be voted on 3-to-2 and sent up to the executive again."

Mr. Drown said he first learned of the chairwoman's proposal on Wednesday night. "I thought we were narrowing it down and all of a sudden Shane called and said she was submitting a map" for council consideration. Ms. Pendergrass was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

"I've taken a major legislative hit -- 40 percent of my district is changed" in both the Feaga and the Pendergrass maps, Mr. Drown said. "I'm willing to compromise, but I can't do all the hard swallowing."

Mr. Drown said he thought he and Ms. Pendergrass were only 850 voters apart.

"She wanted Malindy Circle in her district, and we said to swap it for any 850 voters" outside her district, he said. Instead, Mr. Drown said, she changed all five districts.

As a result, Mr. Drown said he could not support the chairwoman's map in "any way, shape, or form."

Neither can Mr. Feaga. "My map is by far the best," he said. "Nobody was moving [in the compromise meetings], and I thought I had to do something. [The Democrats] have to be ready to spin the clock. They have not spun it yet."

Mr. Ecker said he has seen both the Feaga map and the Pendergrass map but would not comment on either.

"We'll see what happens with the council" when it holds legislative hearings on the maps June 21 and votes on them in July, he said.

"Then I'll do what I have to do."

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