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Councilmania

On the agenda for March 21

The meeting had a light agenda, but there was some heavy talk about redistricting, which must be done by April 1.

First the Council voted to change the rules by which councilmembers are selected to fill vacant seats. The rule, “5-11 Vacancy,” has no ordinance number but is published in the agenda. It calls for the establishment of a nominating committee whenever a Council seat is left vacant midterm; a majority of the committee must be selected by neighborhood association presidents from the district, with no more than one from any neighborhood. “The rule change we’re voting on tonight puts part of the nomination for candidates for Council in the hands of the community,” Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) said. “Before I vote ‘aye,’” Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) said, “I would like to say, I think this is a great step of stepping outside City Hall to bring people inside City Hall.”

11-0270R Informational Hearing - Criminal Injuries Compensation Board Invites representatives of the Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to talk to the Council about the board.

The Read: Clarke said the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board helped the family of Tanise Ervin, who was murdered on March 12 as she walked out of a deli. Ervin’s family, Clarke said, did not have cash on hand to pay for the 19-year-old’s funeral. The board gave them the money—as it does for medical expenses and disability. “I had learned a lot about the Criminal Injury Compensation Board from another tragedy a few months ago,” Clarke said. “I would like the Council and general public to know more about this group.”

Discussion at the end of the meeting centered on the mayor’s proposed redistricting plan, which easily passed to Third Reader but against which councilmembers James Kraft (D-1st District) and Belinda Conaway (D-7th District) both spoke. Kraft put in his brief for the Upper Fells Point, Highlandtown, and Butchers Hill neighborhoods, all of which will be split under the new district plan. (Highlandtown was split in the last redistricting plan as well.) Kraft said the principle of neighborhood cohesiveness should be respected, as well as the idea that minority ethnic groups should be given as much opportunity as possible to have political power. The city’s Hispanic population is split among districts under this plan, Kraft said, and while it is “important to know that those populations right now are not a large voting population,” if they continue to grow “they will not be able to become dominant in any district.”

Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, minorities must be given special consideration during redistricting, neither scattered among many districts nor “packed” into very few to dissipate their potential power. Conaway raised that issue in her address to the Council, complaining that white voters in Hampden and Remington will be taken from her district (along with “resources” such as the Pepsi bottling plant, The Avenue business district, and the 25th Street Station). The white precincts have been replaced by predominantly African-American precincts, Conaway said: “That’s called ‘packing,’ and it’s illegal.”

The Council was set to meet on Friday as a “Committee of the Whole” to mull over the final pieces of census information that could alter the redistricting plan—the count of state prisoners—but the meeting was canceled due to unchanged census numbers. This year prisoners are to be counted at their residences prior to incarceration, and these numbers might alter a few district boundaries. Clarke, who voted for the plan, said she did so in order to retain her right to amend it before final passage. Those amendments—if they come—will be introduced on March 28. If there are amendments, the Council will meet twice that day, once to amend the plan and again to vote on the amendments.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for April 11 at 5 P.M.

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