Residents Voice Concerns, Preferences for New Council Districts
Community members express a desire for a nonpartisan process and for compact districts that would unite people with common interests.
Creating compact districts, uniting communities with common interests and proceeding with a nonpartisan process emerged as dominant goals at the inaugural meeting Tuesday night of the county's Councilmanic Redistricting Commission.
Nearly two dozen people attended the first of three scheduled meetings of the five-member county redistricting commission in Towson.
The commission is developing a plan for redrawing the districts based on 2010 U.S. Census figures, which show the county gained about 50,000 residents.
Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council, said the commission should try to unite communities with common interests. Baisden's group represents community associations along the Harford Road corridor that are in three different districts.
Much of Parkville is in the 6th District. A portion of the community is also in the 5th District with Carney. Cub Hill is in the 3rd District—the largest of the seven because it primarily represents rural areas in northern Baltimore County.
Baisden said the promise of better representation from having three council members for those neighborhoods never materialized.
"We've had problems with making council people knowledgeable of our issues," Baisden said. "We're not always their highest priority."
Nancy Horst, a longtime community activist from Ruxton, said Towson was left in a similar situation after the 2002 maps split Towson-area communities into separate districts.
"I used to live in a district represented by a councilman from Towson, but this district was sliced and diced 10 years ago by the County Council into thirds," Horst, who lives in the 2nd District, told the commission. "I ask for your consideration in reuniting the 21204 zip code into one Towson District—the 5th."
Del. Steve Lafferty, a Towson Democrat, asked the commission to redraw the 5th Council District to make it more compact.
"This is not about an individual serving the district, but really about the continuity of the district, compactness and shared values," said Lafferty. "If you look at the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, the Greater Timonium Council and others, Loch Raven Village, there's much more shared in common than there is with Perry Hall."
Lafferty suggested that the boundaries of a new Towson council district could include Ruxton and reach up to Seminary Avenue and Perring Parkway—not dissimilar to the legislative district in which he currently serves.
"I'm not suggesting it mirror the 42nd District, but certainly if you look at proximity of neighborhoods and you look at the compactness, we need to really draw a district that is going to give Towson fair representation going forward," he said.
Juliet Fisher, an Anneslie resident, agreed the focus should be on obtaining the best representation for Towson, adding that for her it was also about the individual serving the district.
The "almost lifetime member of the Towson community" who identified herself as a Democrat asked the commission to keep her neighborhood in a district represented by Republican Councilman David Marks.
"I didn't vote for Councilman Marks, but have found him to be the most responsive and involved representative that I've ever had, regardless of political party," Fisher said.
The 18 people who testified were nearly evenly split between the Democratic and Republican parties. Many Republicans in attendance asked the commission to avoid using redistricting as a way to punish the GOP.
Tammy Larkin, a White Marsh resident, asked that "the redistricting process be free of gerrymandering."
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by a ratio of 2-to-1. Currently, there are two Republicans on the council—the most since there were three elected to the seven-member body in 1990.