A Maryland House of Delegates committee has heard testimony and reviewed a map that divides Carroll County into five new commissioner districts, but it may take several weeks to make a recommendation before sending the measure to the Senate.
Although the county legislative delegation submitted the map as an emergency bill, the hearing process and an ensuing debate are delaying the campaign for the commissioner race and preventing candidates from filing for office.
The map is critical to the expansion of the board of commissioners from three to five members this year.
"At the rate we are going, we will have a map on Sept. 11 and the primary on Sept. 12," said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr.
Opposition to the delegation's map, known as Option One, could exacerbate the delay. Option One separates Hampstead and Manchester into two districts and makes one district in South Carroll and another in Finksburg.
A contingency of county residents and officials, including all three commissioners and four mayors, lobbied the House Environmental Matters Committee members last week for an alternative map, known as Option Two. It keeps North Carroll in one district, but splits South Carroll along Route 32.
In both maps, Westminster is one district.
The legislative committee members heard nearly two hours of testimony - most of it for Option Two.
"This was really unprecedented, especially because it included elected officials unanimous in their support," said Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll. "This issue is obviously not settled to anyone's satisfaction. It is unfortunate that we could not settle this strife at home."
Throughout the hearing, committee members took notes and asked questions of the speakers. Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, committee chair, said, "We promise to be flexible."
Westminster resident Michelle Jefferson, who organized the caravan to the state capital, said, "They listened to us, and they asked pointed questions. They didn't have their heads in their computers."
Krebs said several environmental committee members told her later they were "compelled by the arguments."
Frank Johnson, the county's legislative liaison, said, "From my observations of these hearings, I think they will listen to what was said."
No candidate can file or campaign for the commissioners' race until a map delineates five districts. Commissioners, who have traditionally run at large, will be elected by district this fall.
"We have to have these lines drawn by the end of this [General Assembly] session," Krebs said. "The parameters are all there to make sure voters are represented. It is just a question of choosing one over the other."
A redistricting committee worked six months on several maps, ultimately recommending Option Two, a map that also won the unanimous support of the mayors of Carroll's eight towns. The delegation members, who were not bound by the recommendation, voted 5-to-2 for Option One.
"This was a recommendation that was met with general broad appeal from everyone," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "Voting against it is a betrayal of the public trust."
Del. Donald B. Elliott, who originated the bill that took the expansion of the board of commissioners to a successful referendum in 2004, said although he favored Option Two, the process should move forward now and make the map into law.
"I was outvoted by my colleagues, and I accept that simply as the democratic process," Elliott said.
Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, who sponsored the map bill, said the delegation followed the letter of the law, held a public hearing and voted in a public session. She based her decision on what she had gathered on Main Street, she said.
"Most people don't care where the lines are as long as they have a commissioner representing them," Stocksdale said.
Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman agreed that "technically all the rules were followed, but technically this delegation is supposed to represent the majority of Carroll citizens."
Opponents vowed to return to Annapolis next month if the delegation's map bill is submitted to the Senate.