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Lia Russell

The Baltimore Sun

July 1, 2024

Baltimore County residents will decide whether to add two elected officials in November after the county council passed a related bill Monday.

The county council voted 5-1 for the bill, sponsored by Chair Izzy Patoka, to add two more members to the legislative body during the 2026 election cycle. The bill, which required five members’ affirmative votes, will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as a charter amendment. Amendments to the charter, which does not mention expansion, need a majority vote to go into effect.

“This is a chance to move out of 1956,” said Patoka, a Pikesville Democrat, referring to the year Baltimore County adopted its current form of government. Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, was absent and did not vote. Democrat Pat Young of Catonsville voted against the bill. Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, said he reversed his previous anti-expansion position and voted for two more members to stave off a Democratic “power grab.”

Young said his opposition stemmed from the lack of public input for the process of adding new districts, and wondered aloud whether the process could open the council up to further litigation. He also unsuccessfully put forth an amendment to add four more members. Kach successfully put forth an amendment creating a commission to redistrict the 9 districts by April 30, 2025.

In a statement, County Executive Johnny Olszewski said he applauded the council’s decision to expand itself and send the question to voters: “Should voters approve council expansion, I strongly encourage council members to provide a more responsive, equitable, and inclusive map-drawing process.”

The council has had seven members since Baltimore County adopted a charter-style government in 1956, when the county had about 350,000 residents. Since then, the county has almost tripled in population and diversified. Some residents question whether the council’s current makeup represents the county’s growing immigrant communities, people of color, or women.

Patoka has pushed for an expansion bill since last fall, when he successfully lobbied for a bill to study the potential effects of council expansion. That group produced a report in March advocating for two additional council members, though voters’ rights groups claimed the group ignored public opinion by releasing their recommendations before publishing a final report.

Jones, the council’s sole Black member, said last week he was concerned that the map draft Patoka included with his bill would split Jones’ Western Baltimore County district. Patoka said on Monday the bill “wasn’t perfect” but “moves the needle in the right direction.”

Southwest and Western Baltimore County were part of a 2022 fight over whether the county’s redistricting efforts violated the federal Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising Black voters. Federal judge Lydia Griggsby approved the county’s second redistricting map because she said it gave Black voters a chance to elect their preferred candidate by creating a “crossover district” for like-minded groups to form a bloc.

Patoka said his draft map would create an additional majority-Black district on the west side. Shafiyq Hinton, a White Marsh resident who ran for council in 2022, said the proposed map, which Patoka further amended Monday, disadvantaged minority eastern county voters by grouping conservative communities together.

“For the first time you have Rosedale and Dundalk together,” Hinton said, referring to two historically Republican-leaning areas. “Unless you’re an ultra conservative male, there’s no opportunity (for a Democratic candidate to win).”

“The purpose of the map was to create diversity,” he said. “People of color do live in Parkville, they do live in Middle River and Loch Raven.”

Residents could see a competing expansion measure on the November ballot. Vote4More Baltimore County, a voters’ rights coalition, has been collecting signatures since 2022 to put a question on the ballot that would allow for four more council members.

Vote4More’s chair, Linda Dorsey-Walker, said last week that she anticipated the coalition would meet a July 29 deadline to allow for the measure to appear on the ballot.

Petitions that seek to amend the Baltimore County Charter need at least 10,000 signatures from county voters to appear on the ballot.

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