Howard's long redistricting saga nears end Last-gasp change sought by Drown before tonight's vote


To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, the Howard County Council's long-running redistricting saga should end tonight not with a bang, but a whimper.

The last gasp should come in the form of an amendment from Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, who wants the Timberview neighborhood included in his district.

"They consider themselves a vital part of Elkridge and have asked to be included" in the new Ellicott City-Elkridge district, Mr. Drown said.

Mr. Drown said he has not spoken with other council members yet about the amendment, but hopes they will accept it because "the numbers are minimal -- maybe 200 to 250 people."

Mr. Drown has written residents and civic leaders in the neighborhood, asking them to lobby for the change. But until now, Democrats have beaten back every one of Mr. Drown's proposals.

"We've lost the war, maybe we can win this little battle," he said.

The council will consider the amendment at the 8 p.m. legislative session. After the amendment is dealt with, Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, is expected to join the three council Democrats in approving a plan both he and Mr. Drown say is unfair to Republicans.

Mr. Feaga says he intends to vote for the plan because the council has more important things to do than engage in another protracted districting battle. Also, the council is running out of time. New council districts must be in place for the 1994 election. The lines must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes recorded in the census.

Mr. Drown's district will be altered more radically than any other. About 40 percent of his district will include people new to him. "The Democrats did not know what the word compromise meant," Mr. Feaga said.

Republicans could have fared worse. At one point in the 2-year struggle, the local Democratic Central Committee offered a map which cut Mr. Drown out of his district and put him in the same district as Mr. Feaga.

Although that idea was eventually discarded, Democrats were clearly in control, pressing their advantage on the council at every opportunity. Until now, every districting vote has been 3-2 along party lines.

Shortly after the process began in July 1991, the three council Democrats voted to pay former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti $25,000 at taxpayers' expense to advise the council. "It may be conceivable that [the council's district map] may be litigated," Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said at the time. "We're going to need legal representation for the three Democrats to fend off the Republicans. . . . This is a partisan issue."

"Then why spend $150 an hour fooling us," Mr. Drown replied. "Just show us your map and exclude us."

Both men were prophetic. The GOP was excluded and Republicans did take the council to court after the Democrats enacted their plan in a resolution. The resolution passed by a 3-2 vote along party lines following County Executive Charles I. Ecker's veto of a bill containing the Democratic plan. Bills are subject to an executive's veto, resolutions are not.

A year later, Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. ruled the Democratic plan "constitutionally defective and invalid" because it was accomplished by resolution rather than by bill.

The council then asked Mr. Drown and Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, to attempt to negotiate an acceptable compromise. After six months of closed-door meetings failed to produce a compromise, council members called it quits and again put competing redistricting plans on their legislative agenda.

Since then, Mr. Feaga has agreed to drop his plan and support one sponsored by Ms. Pendergrass. In return, Ms. Pendergrass has agreed to minor changes in her proposal.

Anita Iribe, president of the Howard County chapter of the League of Women Voters, asked the council to give the public more time to study the plan, but the council is expected to approve it tonight.

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