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Harford council to hear input on redistricting

Harford County Council members are getting ready to hear residents' feedback on the newly-proposed council districts, although they seemed largely pleased with the report the redistricting commission put forward on Sept. 13.

The council will hold a public hearing on the redistricting at 6:30 p.m. this Tuesday in the A.A. Roberty Education Building inBel Air.

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Council President Billy Boniface said earlier this week he does not want to comment on the redistricting proposal before the public hearing because he wants to get residents' feedback first.

The council has until Nov. 22, 70 days after presentation of the commission's plan, to choose a final legislative map, according to the county charter. If one is not selected by the council, the plan as submitted by the commission becomes law.

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Councilman Dick Slutzky, a Republican representing the current Aberdeen and Churchville District E, expressed concern during the Sept. 13 council meeting that the commission's recommendation, which essentially swaps parts of current districts E and F on the county's eastern half, would be too disruptive.

This past Wednesday, Slutzky said he had no interest in moving people in unusual directions just for political reasons.

"My position remains the same. I am interested in doing a redistricting that most fairly represents the Census report," he said.

He said he believes other council members have similar goals in mind.

"I suspect there will be some consensus as to what is the most fairest and most efficient way of adding the new citizens of Harford County," he said. "I have concerns with some of the maps that were presented. I think we all do…Everybody is trying to see what pieces will work most effectively."

Slutzky said the council is not interested in gerrymandering or disrupting communities.

"I think everybody is working for the same objective and that's consistent with what we said back when there was discussion on the representation on the commission," he said, referring to the controversy over having no Democrats on the three-member redistricting commission, which led the Harford County Democratic Central Committee to sue.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said Monday there are conflicting legal opinions on whether the municipalities of Havre de Grace and Aberdeen could be in the same district. Lisanti represents the Havre de Grace District F, the other district most affected by the commission's plan.

Lisanti said she also wants more information on whether only the Board of Elections can set the boundaries of voting precincts or whether the council might have some say in it. Typically, efforts are made to avoid having a single voting precinct in more than one district.

She said she supports creating districts that are neighborhood- and community-oriented.

"What I am really looking to is – because particularly in my district there are so many recommended changes – is really feedback from the community," Lisanti said. "I think what I'm hearing is, it's very, very important to look at this, to keep communities together."

Wendy Sawyer, chairwoman of the Democratic Central Committee, said she has been happy with the work put forth by the commission despite being displeased with its political makeup.

"I had been attending the [commission] meeting and I found that in spite of the fact that the Republican council chose not to include us, I felt that the commission did a really good job and it was a fair job," she said.

"I think they did a very professional job and they should be commended for it, and coming from me, that says a lot," she said with a laugh.

Sawyer said there were some issues with the commission's recommendation, such as how district F was divided up.

"It's so much more of a Republican area now," she said. "There are a couple areas of concern, but for the most part, they did a pretty fair job."

Sawyer said her group will continue staying on top of the redistricting process.

"We are still watching it," she said. "The bottom line is, the county council can do whatever they want."

She also noted the Central Committee is not appealing a decision by Judge John H. Fader in Harford County Circuit Court to deny the committee's injunction request.

"By the time we got to that point [of being in court], the committee was probably finished their work," she explained, adding the Central Committee does deserve credit for forcing the council to reconsider its charter.

"We now have a charter review board in place," she said. "It seems to be a fairly good group of people, bipartisan group of people, and they are definitely looking at the language that was an issue."

The proposed realignment from the commission would still keep three districts that are dominated by the municipalities of Havre de Grace, Aberdeen and Bel Air and three others dominated by the northern tier, greater Fallston and the Joppatowne-Edgewood area. Once again, the Abingdon area will be split among other districts, rather than having a single district of its own.

Redistricting Commission members Chris Pate, Jason Gallion and Ben Lloyd have said the best alternative would combine precincts in Havre de Grace, Level, Darlington and Churchville into District F, and precincts in the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Perryman, Aberdeen and Riverside areas into District E.

The recommended plan would greatly shrink the current District D, representing the county's northern swath, and would ultimately move 21 voting precincts around the county into different districts from where they are currently.

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