A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 14

As we saw in part 13, the fallout from the 1990 Howard County general election ensured that the path to creating new council district boundaries would not be a smooth one. In this part the road grows rockier yet.

November 1991. The County Council considers some last minute changes and then prepares for a vote on the proposed redistricting plans. In a marathon meeting the council initially approves a Democratic-sponsored redistricting bill by a 3-2 party-line vote, then moves to reconsider the vote for the plan at the suggestion of C. Vernon Gray, and then after midnight approves the same bill by a 3-2 margin again, as Democratic council members fail to secure at least one Republican vote to make it 4-1 and stave off a possible veto by county executive Charles Ecker. Republican council members complain that the plan is designed to cement Columbia’s dominance of Howard County politics: [The plan] was written to ensure that three Democrats from Columbia would stay on the council for the next 10 years, says Darrel Drown.1

C. Vernon Gray responds that Republicans never indicated an intention to negotiate,and points out that in moving to reconsider the bill he had given Charles Feaga the opportunity to make an amendment removing from District 5 the Highland precinct of one of Feaga’s political rivals: If we’d put John Taylor in the 4th District, this whole problem would have been solved. Feaga, who had previously proposed just such an amendment but withdrew it prior to the first vote, notes that he wanted to retain 100% of his current district and complains about it being made even larger than it already was. Gray professes to be really disappointed with Feaga and Drown and accuses them of acting in bad faith: They came in with their own game plan and executed it. They turned this into a circus. Feaga responds, [I] didn’t need to be scolded by a 15-minute sermon by Dr. Gray. … I thought he had a little more class than that, and takes his case to the readers of the Baltimore Sun.

Unlike former county executive J. Hugh Nichols, who declined to sign the first redistricting bill on the grounds that it was a council responsibility, Charles Ecker promises to take a more active role: I will either sign the bill or veto it. I won’t just let it sit there. Although Shane Pendergrass anticipates that Ecker is thinking about peace-making and what’s good for the county and will sign the bill, Ecker decides to veto the bill, complaining in a letter to C. Vernon Gray that it unnecessarily divides communities, has population differences between districts that are too great, and makes District 5 excessively large: [The plan] may well be a legally supportable document, but it is not a fair document …. Gray objects to this characterization (I am dumbfounded for the executive to say it’s legal, but not fair) and calls the veto nothing more than a crass, selfish act for partisan political reasons.

(James M. Coram, Council to adopt district boundaries previewed in hearing, Baltimore Sun, November 3, 1991, 9H; Michael J. Clark, Howard approves new council lines, Baltimore Sun, November 5, 1991, 3D; James M. Coram, Democrats final winners of fiery redistricting war, Baltimore Sun, November 6, 1991, 2H; Ecker Promises To Take Action On Redistricting Bill, Baltimore Sun, November 10, 1991, 2H; Charles Feaga, Defending redistricting, Baltimore Sun, November 27, 1991, 8H; James M. Coram, Ecker vetoes council’s redistricting plan, Baltimore Sun, November 17, 1991, 4H.)

December 1991. Unable to muster a 4-1 majority to overturn Charles Ecker’s veto of the council redistricting bill, the Democratic council members try the alternative approach and approve the redistricting plan as a resolution. Howard County GOP chair Carol Arscott objects to the strategy (Since a resolution can not be vetoed or taken to referendum, it leaves too much power in the hands of three people) and local Republicans contemplate a legal challenge to set the record straight, as Charles Feaga puts it, though Feaga is hopeful that a compromise can be reached.

Meanwhile the Howard County Board of Elections votes 2-1 along party lines to implement the plan previously approved by the council. As Board of Elections president (and Democrat) Frank Lupashunski explains, given the ambiguity in the county charter as to how redistricting plans were to be approved, We accepted the resolution because we are an appointed board and it is our duty not to question any official body, which in this case was the council.

Howard Co. GOP may challenge map resolution, Baltimore Sun, December 4, 1991, 2B; Board of Elections OK’s controversial Howard council map, Baltimore Sun, December 17, 1991, 6B.)

Thus ends the tumultuous year of 1991 (well, tumultuous as far as council redistricting was concerned). In part 15 we’ll find out whether the council and the county executive end up in court or not.


1. The plan being passed as a bill made it subject to a potential county executive veto per the county charter. The council also had the option of passing the plan as a resolution, but declined to take that option given the legal uncertainty over the county charter required redistricting to be done via a bill instead. Overriding Ecker’s veto would have required a 4-1 vote in favor of the bill. Thus did the results of the election of 1990 come back to haunt Howard County Democrats, first by Elizabeth Bobo’s losing the county executive position to Charles Ecker and raising the possibility of a veto in the first place, and then by Angela Beltram’s losing her council seat to Darrel Drown and enabling Republican council members to sustain a veto.