The Howard County Council, long unable to compromise over a councilmanic redistricting plan, may have found a way to avoid turning the whole matter over to County Executive Charles Ecker to solve. With the balance of political power at stake, Democrats and Republicans on the council have spent months warring over various options for redrawing district lines to comply with the county's charter and the 1990 Census.

The main battle ground is District 1, the seat currently held by Democratic Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass. Republicans view Mrs. Pendergrass as vulnerable because she narrowly won re-election in 1990 when pitted against Republican Dennis Schrader. The GOP would like District 1 redrawn in its favor. The Democrats, naturally, want the opposite.

Apparently, Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, and Ms. Pendergrass have at last devised an acceptable compromise. It would shift two District 1 communities into areas now represented by the council's two Republicans, and about 400 Fulton voters would move into the 4th District, now represented by Democrat Paul R. Farragut. The head of the county League of Women Voters this week asked the council to postpone action, however, until a map of the proposed changes can be circulated to the public.

Commendably, both sides appear willing to give a little to settle this. A mid-March deadline for a redistricting plan, established by county charter, was violated long ago. A Circuit Court judge tossed out one Democratic plan on a technicality. And when both parties then produced separate maps, the Democrats realized their 3-2 majority would be insufficient to keep Mr. Ecker from vetoing their proposal.

For a while, in fact, it appeared that this council would do nothing before the 1994 elections and leave the district lines as drawn. According to elections officials, such inaction would ultimately bounce the whole matter back to Circuit Court.

While Mr. Feaga may be right in his comment that many residents aren't gripped with anticipation over what district they'll be in for the next election, voters nevertheless have a right to expect that district lines are mapped with fairness and balance. It is good to see council members trying to put an end to the petty, partisan way in which they have handled this affair.

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