A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 17

As we saw in part 16 of this series, 1992 ended with the Howard County Council still divided over how to proceed with redistricting in the wake of the ruling by Judge Cornelius Sybert, Jr., that the council could not adopt a redistricting plan as a resolution. After coming back from the end of the year vacation the council resumed its efforts to break the stalemate:

January 1993. The council again divides 3-2, but with a twist this time: Republican council member Charles Feaga joins Democrats Shane Pendergrass and Paul Farragut to try to forge a compromise plan based on the original Democratic-sponsored plan approved by the council via a resolution (the one struck down by Judge Sybert) and a plan drawn up by Republican Michael Deets for the Columbia Association that was previously submitted to the council but never considered. On the losing side are Republican Darrel Drown and Democrat C. Vernon Gray. Gray simply wants to address the concerns expressed by Republican county executive Charles Ecker in his veto of the Democratic plan, while Drown objects to considering the Columbia Association plan instead of the plan submitted by Ecker (If you want to talk compromise, talk about the Republican map) and fears his Ellicott City district being split up, with part being joined to Elkridge. Feaga dismisses his concerns: I did get the idea from the public testimony that Elkridge wanted to be linked to Ellicott City. Reading the tea leaves, the Baltimore Sun predicts that Darrel Drown is destined for the loss column with Charles Feaga willing to let Mr. Drown take the fall.

(James M. Coram, New effort planned on redistricting, Baltimore Sun, January 8, 1993, 1B; Redistricting War Dance, Baltimore Sun, January 14, 1993, 16A.)

February-May 1993. As the council members continue private negotiations over redistricting (spearheaded by Shane Pendergrass and Darrel Drown), the Baltimore Sun assesses the overall accomplishments (or lack thereof) of the Howard County Council: The most appropriate adjective to describe the council’s current state would be rudderless. … Divisiveness across party lines has resulted in strange alliances as council members have become increasingly consumed by individual, and often competing, interests.

As the private negotiations drag on, Barbara Feaga, Board of Elections administrator (and wife of Charles Feaga), worries about preparations for the 1994 elections: We are at a dead stop. … We can’t make any plans. The sticking point is making changes to the boundaries for Shane Pendergrass’s District 1; Darrel Drown comments, We’re down to the last 500 voters. The battleground is Shane’s district. They want to win, and we want to win. Michael Deets for the Republicans and David Marker for the Democrats act as go-betweens shuttling proposed plans between Pendergrass and Drown, with both sites claiming the other is holding up the process. Marker comments, Waiting for the Republicans is like waiting for Godot., while Deets counters, The last I knew, we had come up with two different maps that we submitted to Shane.1

As June approaches (along with a June 30 budget deadline for expenses related to redistricting) the private negotiations fail, and each party once again plans to submit competing plans. (Every [Democratic] map I looked at looked gerrymandered, claims Charles Feaga.) Shane Pendergrass claims to have addressed the concerns expressed by Charles Ecker in his veto statement, but Darrel Drown begs to disagree: This is not a compromise. I assume it’s raw politics. … I thought we were narrowing it down and all of a sudden Shane called and said she was submitting a map [for a vote]. Ecker refuses to tip his hand: We’ll see what happens with the council. Then I’ll do what I have to do.

(Mavericks on the Loose, Baltimore Sun, February 23, 1993, 2A; James M. Coram, Council can’t agree on districts, Baltimore Sun, April 26, 1993, 1B; James M. Coram, 6 months of redistricting negotiations end with council still at loggerheads, Baltimore Sun, June 1, 1993, 1B.)

June 1993. The council considers redistricting legislation but it takes a back seat to formulating a council response to the veto by Charles Ecker of a county-wide smoking ban. Nevertheless the two parties seem close to a compromise that would see the Democratic plan adopted with minor changes. Shane Pendergrass sees it as finding common ground but Darrel Drown vents (I think we gave a whole lot, got a whole little) while Charles Feaga sympathizes (Darrel has every right in the world to be very, very upset) but is ultimately resigned (… we’ve got more important things to do now. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the county, but I feel I represent the county as a whole. [District] boundaries mean very little.)2

Feaga also dismisses concern by the League of Women Voters that the public isn’t being provided enough information about the compromise plan (… most people don’t care about their district that much. I don’t think you can create interest in a thing like this.), with Shane Pendergrass claiming that the council was doing enough (We have done our normal advertising, but we couldn’t notify 200,000 people personally). The Baltimore Sun sees hope of the council trying to put an end to the petty, partisan way in which they have handled this affair.

(James M. Coram, Redistricting, smoking on agenda of County Council hearing, Baltimore Sun, June 21, 1993, 3B; James M. Coram, Delay urged for council redistricting, Baltimore Sun, June 22, 1993, 1B; Border Wars, Baltimore Sun, June 24, 1993, 20A.)

July 1993. As the council moves to approve the compromise plan, Darrel Drown, whose district is more affected than any other, tries one last time to make a minor change (the numbers are minimal—maybe 200 to 250 people). Although his amendment is approved (along with another minor change proposed by Charles Feaga), Drown votes against the final plan: I think we’ve done too much shifting around so I think I’ll have to vote no to this. However Charles Feaga joins Paul Farragut, C. Vernon Gray, and Shane Pendergrass to approve the plan by a veto-proof 4-1 majority. The plan goes to Charles Ecker for his signature, with Feaga and Farragut recommending that the council stop trying to draw up its own plans and create a citizens committee to make future redistricting recommendations.3

(James M. Coram, Howard’s long redistricting saga nears end, Baltimore Sun, July 6, 1993, 3B; Erik Nelson, Redrawn districts approved, Baltimore Sun, July 7, 1993, 1B.)

Thus did the battle over redistricting end, after more than two years (and five blog posts!). In part 18 I’ll review how the new district lines affected the 1994 council elections.


1. Both Michael Deets and David Marker went on to represent their respective parties in subsequent redistricting efforts. Marker currently serves on the Howard County Redistricting Commission drawing up new council district lines based on the 2010 census.

2. Not to digress, but the smoking ban issue is interesting both because of the more recent controversy over banning smoking in Howard County parks and also because it apparently didn’t break down neatly on stereotypical party lines. Although disagreeing with Howard County instituting a smoking ban ahead of the state as a whole, Charles Ecker ostensibly vetoed the ban previously adopted by the council because it wasn’t tough enough, including as it did an exemption for taverns and a smoker’s rights clause that forbade businesses from discriminating against workers who smoked off the job. (Darrel Drown was Ecker’s ally in this.) I should note though that some, including the bill’s sponsor C. Vernon Gray, suspected Ecker of ulterior motives; see the Baltimore Sun editorial Chuck Ecker’s smoke screen for more background.

3. James Coram of the Baltimore Sun, who had faithfully chronicled the redistricting saga since its beginning (and to whom I own a great debt for his reporting), was apparently not present at its conclusion; the story for the final vote was filed by Erik Nelson. I presume Coram was ill or had a schedule conflict, but certainly one could forgive him or anyone else for being exhausted by the whole ordeal and wanting to take a break.