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Baltimore County was on the cusp of monumental change in 1956, when voters approved a charter for the growing jurisdiction. The county's population nearly doubled between 1950 and 1960, and voters recognized that a county executive and seven-member County Council were needed to lead a modern government.

That arrangement has worked well. The county has a reputation for fiscal discipline, safe neighborhoods and strong communities. The charter has remained relatively unchanged, partly reflecting the county's conservative temperament. And while other jurisdictions have adjusted the size of their county councils to reflect population changes, Baltimore County has remained at seven members.

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In 1960, each member of the first Baltimore County Council represented roughly 70,000 residents. That number has grown to 120,000 residents. As the county population climbs to a million people, I believe it is time to consider an expansion of the County Council to nine members.

We hear this argument usually during the redistricting process. Every 10 years, the County Council adjusts its boundaries. In 2002, with the creation of a western district to reflect the growing African-American population, the County Council was forced to merge two existing districts. That led to the creation of the Fifth District that I represent, which stretches from Charles Street and the Baltimore City line to the Jericho Covered Bridge near Harford County.

In 2010, there was discussion about splitting the Fifth District to create a new Towson area seat. Unfortunately, because the number of seats is set at seven, this would mean carving up communities in other districts.

Baltimore County has the highest population per council member of Maryland's most urbanized counties. Anne Arundel County also has seven council members, but its population is nearly 300,000 people smaller. Baltimore City, meanwhile, shrunk its 19-member council by five seats in 2004 to reflect population changes.

A nine-member Baltimore County Council would create more compact boundaries. The County Council member from a uniquely Towson district could concentrate on specialized issues such as student housing and the demands of a downtown core.

A nine-member council would likely retain the partisan balance that brings accountability to Baltimore County government. And it would fulfill the ideal of a part-time council member. Right now, council members juggle the demands of representing sprawling districts. I think we do an excellent job, but I wonder how a future "part-time" council member could possibly represent 150,000 people.

There has been talk of a petition drive to put the concept of a nine-member County Council on the ballot. I am forming a panel of citizens chaired by Towson resident Tim Tenne to look at this concept. I support enlarging the council, with the understanding that it would go into effect after the 2022 redistricting. An earlier change would lead to two redistricting cycles in six years.

A nine-seat Baltimore County Council would have more compact districts, with members focusing their time and energy on more selective priorities. This is a useful dialogue to have in our county's history.

David Marks, a Republican, is a Baltimore County councilman; his email is dmarks@baltimorecountymd.gov.

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