Should South County Have Its Own Councilmanic District?
At the last county council meeting on April 16, the Charter Revision Commission gave their Final Report to the County Council. The 200-plus pages contained information on where the Anne Arundel County Charter (the set of rules governing county government) could use updating. Some of the things included how to fill a vacant County Council seat and a review of the County Executive’s Line Item Veto power.
One of the items mentioned, was moving the council to a nine-member panel so that South County could have its own “rural” district. In September of 2011, the commission gave the council a report on how each seat could be redistricted. Download the Charter Revision Commission Final Redistricting Report here.
South County currently shares a councilman with Crofton and one of the items the commission touched on was how to craft a single “South County Only” district.
The state legislature created such a map in the General Assembly delegation: District 33B. That has since been modified, but that is a whole separate story.
Part of the issue is that the districts are carved up based on population. That means that rural South County will always be paired with a large population base to even out the numbers.
But what that does is not allow South County to overcome the Crofton numbers at the polls. For the past dozen-plus years, District 7 seat has been occupied by only Croftonites (Janet Greenip, Ed Reilly and incumbent Jerry Walker).
State Sen. Ed Reilly, the previous District 7 officeholder, and Chris Trumbauer the District 6 Councilman, both told the South River Source that until the council goes to a nine-member panel, there is little chance that South County will get its own district.
In its report, the Charter Revision Commission did broach the topic of moving the council to nine members, but did not recommend it as an immediately-necessary course of action.
Reilly put it this way:
“The issue is that the county charter government has been around 42 years. And 42 years ago, each council seat represented about 32,000 people. Now each councilmember represents nearly 80,000. There is a need to have a smaller group of constituents. It is smarter government.”
The 2010 Census data on South County shows about 47,000 people living in the communities counted (Davidsonville, Deale/Churchton, Edgewater/Mayo, Galesville, Harwood, Lothian, Shady Side and Tracys Landing).
Walker said that he supports a South County district, moving Crofton into District Four. He said that a move to a nine member council is unlikely at this time.
“The biggest reason is the cost. It would cost another $100,000 a year. It isn’t going to happen,” he said.
Even with a nine-person council, each seat would represent about 56,000, meaning South County would have to come up with 10,000 people from somewhere else (Millersville? Gambrills? Crownsville? Annapolis?).
At this time, however, it is unclear if there is the political will to craft a rural District 7. Still, some in the community wish it could be.
Joan Turek, who sits on the Harwood Civic Association Board, said that last year’s comprehensive rezoning cost Councilman Walker a lot of support in South County.
“Our needs are much different than Crofton. Many persons saw Jerry’s actions during comprehensive rezoning as clear evidence that someone from Gambrills could not well represent South County,” she said.
Patricia O’Brien-Boarman, a civic leader and activist said that Crofton might even be better suited being paired with District 4 in West County—pushing it together into a seat that includes Odenton, Fort Meade, and Severn.
“First and foremost, South Anne Arundel County needs a Councilman (or woman), who will ‘represent’ them,” she said.
“The feeling of most South Countians is that, in the past, with the exception of a few, our area has been neglected by the councilperson who is supposed to be representing us,” O’Brien Boarman said. “There is a saying in South County: ‘now that the election is over, will we see or hear from our Councilperson?’” she said.
O’Brien Boarman said that Crofton would also be best suited if it were to be paired with District 4 because of the similarities it shares with other District 4 communities, like shopping and restaurants.
She said that South County is unique in its character?
“It is more rural, more agricultural, with waterways, boating and marinas. In fact, South County is the ‘largest’ area, geographically, approximately 156 miles.”
Even on the surface, O’Brien Boarman said she can see why a Croftonite might not want to travel to South County all the time, because it might take time away from “important matters” in Crofton.
But, being the stepchild of the county does take its toll.
South County surely does not have adequate police or fire protection. In addition, look at the lack of lighted ballfields, overcrowded schools, lack of public works personnel and a serious need for more recreation, she said.
Both O’Brien Boarman and Turek said that what has soured them most on the shared district was redistricting.
Boarman said that Walker did not listen to his constituents, and citizens had to rely on the county executive to veto a number of Walker’s amendments in order to keep South County development in check.
Disheartened by the process, Turek said: “We are essentially disenfranchised—[we can] never get a local person on the Council—Crofton rules.”
The only way to move anything forward on redistricting or moving the Council to nine members is to go to the meetings and ask the councilmen to take up action.
Boarman for one said that she encourages and supports anyone who wants to let their voice be heard. “Speak out on the topic and ‘Keep South County Rural,’” she said.
Walker supports the South County seat, but there are other considerations. First they will take up the budget. The charter amendments don’t have to be complete until July then the items go on the ballot for voter approval in November.
Plus, there are other priorities that could surface. For example, there could be those who want to see a majority minority district, with ripe territory for that coming from Districts One and Four.
“My understanding is that the main lines have not been changed since the 1960s when they were first drawn,” Walker said.
Any member can introduce the charter amendments. It takes five council members to move the legislation forward. Once the budget wraps, the council members can move on to the charter changes.
During May, each day is a legislative session, with council members meeting regularly on their biggest job of the year: the county budget. To attend a council meeting, which are held on the first and third Monday of each month at 7 p.m., show up at 6:30 p.m. to add your name to the list of speakers. The next meeting is May 7.
For more information on the council, call 410-222-1401 or visit the Anne Arundel County Council website?