Howard County Council redistricting panel nominated

The council pre-filed legislation Thursday afternoon to name the seven members of the commission that will be charged with reorganizing the five council districts based on 2010 census data, which is not yet available at the county level.

The Councilmanic Redistricting Commission will be comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans, picked by the party’s respective central committees, and a chair appointed by the council.

This year, the Democrat-controlled council nominated Democrat Larry Walker, of Ellicott City, to lead the commission. Walker ran for the Board of Education last year, making it past the primary but losing in the general election.

“We wanted someone who was a high-quality individual and was willing to serve and could work with a variety of individuals,” council Chairman Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat, said.

As someone who considers himself a community servant, Walker said the commission is another place where he can lend his talents to help better Howard County.

“I’m going to be open to hearing what the citizens of Howard County will have to say, as well as the citizens of the committee,” he said. “I don’t want to go into this with a predisposed position on what things should look like because that leaves a lot out of the process.”

While noting that it’s no secret he’s a registered Democrat, Walker said he’s not looking for the commission to be divided along party lines.

The three commission nominees from the Democratic Central Committee are: Columbia resident David Marker, who served as the commission chairman during the 2001 redistricting process; Cheryl Miller, of Columbia, who is an associate dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland Baltimore County; and, Irfan Malik, of Ellicott City, who works as an investor and is the former president of the Howard County Muslim Council.

“I think it’s really important that it be done right, and given I have worked with census data for more than 25 years, I feel I have an intimate knowledge of the information we’re going to be using,” said Marker, who works as a statistician designing and analyzing surveys, and serves on the National Academy of Sciences panel that advises the Census Bureau.

The Republican Central Committee nominated Woodbine resident Joan Becker, a lawyer and the former Howard County Republican Party chairwoman, and Ellicott City residents David Myers, an elected member of the GOP central committee, and Kevin Rodkey, a lawyer and the central committee’s appointed secretary.

The commission has legal requirements that must be followed when reorganizing the districts, such as making sure all have roughly the same population. Outside of those requirements, the majority of the proposed members said they they are not looking to make specific changes.

“I don’t have any preconception or anything — just going in and doing the job that we’re instructed to do,” Democrat Miller said.

Rodkey expressed similar sentiments, saying he just wants the process and the end result to be fair to Howard voters.

“There has to be a real reason why you would change,” Marker said. “Lacking a strong reason, I assume they (the districts) would stay pretty close to where they are.”

Malik, however, had some general thoughts on what he would like to see changed.

“Within our county, we have certain areas where there may be a heavy Democratic or heavy Republican (population),” he said. “I think we need to make (the districts) more uniform, more balanced.”

Excited that this year’s commission will be diverse, Malik also noted that he would like to avoid pocketing minorities into certain districts.

Becker agreed that one of the main purposes behind redistricting is to ensure that everyone has an equal vote, which includes making sure the districts do not disproportionately favor one party over the other.

The council will officially introduce the legislation naming the appointments on Feb. 7. While it may be amended, the legislation must be adopted in March because the council is required by the Howard County Charter to appoint the commission by April 1.

The commission is expected to make its recommendations on new district lines to the County Council later this year, and the council makes the final decision.

The council also pre-filed legislation Thursday that would form a 15-member commission to review and recommend changes the Howard County Charter. The process is conducted every eight years to ensure the charter, which outlines the framework of Howard County government, remains up to date.

The suggested members of the Charter Review Commission are Columbia residents Regina Clay, Michael Davis, Yvonne Howard, Sang Oh, Donna Richardson and Andrew Stack; Ellicott City residents Sharon Ahn, Cindy Ardinger, Thomas Coale and Charles Feaga; Clarksville resident Edward Cochran; North Laurels resident Alice Glies and Steve Hunt; Fulton resident Joshua Tzuker; and Woodbine resident James Walsh.

County Executive Kenneth Ulman nominated Clay, Howard, Oh, Richardson and Tzuker, and the council members picked the other 10 proposed members.