When the General Assembly convenes next week for a special session on BGE rates, members of Carroll County's delegation to Annapolis hope they will be able to persuade legislators to vote on a bill that would draw districts to elect five commissioners in Carroll's fall election.
A decision last week by the state's highest court to keep Carroll's current government structure intact unraveled years of political efforts, upsetting county officials and residents, who in 2004 approved a referendum to increase the board of commissioners from three to five members to be elected by district.
The Court of Appeals ruled that only the state legislature can establish election districts. As a result, three commissioners are to be elected at large in November.
"I'm confident if we get it to the floor of the Senate, we'd have enough votes for the [redistricting] bill to pass," Sen. Larry E. Haines, the leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation, said yesterday. "I don't think it would be a problem. But it's totally up to the people in positions of leadership in the Democratic Party."
Last week's case before the Court of Appeals involved a political dispute over two maps defining the five proposed commissioner districts.
The county's delegation in Annapolis favored Option One, and the current commissioners, the mayors of Carroll's eight municipalities and many residents backed Option Two.
But when the General Assembly adjourned in mid-April, legislators had failed to approve a map. A bill based on the Option One map made it through the House of Delegates but was not voted on in the Senate.
"It wasn't defeated in the Senate but just didn't get a vote," said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who represents Carroll and Howard counties. "We're back to where we were from the very beginning. But voters voted for districts."
On Tuesday, Kittleman sent a letter to Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, who chairs the committee that deals with elections, urging her to allow the committee to meet during the special session and consider the redistricting bill.
If Hollinger brings the bill to the Senate floor, it will have to be approved by the Senate and the House before it could go to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to be signed into law.
Repeated attempts to reach Hollinger yesterday were unsuccessful.
The special session was called to deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. rate increases, but the legislature could vote on unrelated bills, Assistant Attorney General William R. Varga said.
"Usually the presiding officers want to control the agenda to make it manageable," Varga said. "But that doesn't mean you couldn't introduce anything else."
When the General Assembly did not approve a map in April, the Carroll County Board of Elections tried to proceed with an at-large election.
The next day, a Sykesville resident who is a former Montgomery County delegate filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections. The same afternoon, a Circuit Court judge approved a consent order between the two parties that implemented the Option Two map.
When two county residents appealed that agreement, the case was expedited to the state's highest court.
Since the Court of Appeals ruling Friday, no additional commissioner candidates have filed for election, for which the deadline is July 3. Nine candidates, including incumbents Perry L. Jones Jr. and Dean L. Minnich, have filed.
"We're coming into the deadline to file," said Patricia K. Matsko, director of the county's elections board. "It just would create additional work for the staff [if a new redistricting bill passed]. But it would get done."