On Oct. 5, I attended the final working session of the committee responsible for proposing a revision of the county's voting districts. The committee whittled down a large number of proposed maps to two. The first, Map 201, moves more than 25,000 people from their current districts to new districts, including my neighborhood of Wheatfield, from District 1 (mainly the historic Ellicott City area) to District 2 (predominantly the Columbia area). The second moves fewer than 10,000 people and leaves Wheatfield in District 1 in support of numerous citizens' testimony at a public hearing on the proposed maps in September.
In the end, the seven-member committee voted, 4-3, for Map 201, with Chairman Larry Walker casting the tie-breaking vote. One notable aspect of Map 201 is that, while it moves my neighborhood to a new voting district, it leaves the Long Gate Shopping Center, where I regularly shop, and the Ellicott City Fire Department, which services my neighborhood, in District 1. This fact alone calls the logic of the adopted map into question.
At the public hearing, I and numerous others from across the county, not only from the Wheatfield neighborhood, implored the committee to leave Wheatfield's voting district together with its Ellicott City neighbors. While Columbia is a wonderful place to visit for its shopping, Symphony of Lights at Christmastime, and the incomparable Merriweather Post Pavilion, its local issues and challenges are vastly different from those of my Ellicott City neighborhood. Columbia is a quasi-city, with significant challenges of mixed-use development, transportation options and making village centers viable as places of commerce. Ellicott City, on the other hand, has issues surrounding a suburban community: protecting farmland and green spaces, limiting commercial and residential development, seeking creative solutions for affordable housing and upkeep of the network of roads feeding routes 100, 29 and 70. Both communities are wonderful and beautiful, but face vastly different issues to which our elected officials must respond.
Further, my Wheatfield neighborhood is within a mile of the traditional center of the Ellicott City community. The downtown area is less than three miles from my front door, the VFW post is 1.5 miles away, and Ellicott Mills Middle School, the former site of Ellicott Mills High School and the Howard County Fair, is a five-minute walk from either entrance into Wheatfield. Ellicott City is our home, our neighborhood, where our hearts lie.
In a county that purports to have representative government, I struggle to see how a proposal that moves the equivalent of nearly 50 percent of an entire voting district, including entire neighborhoods that implored the committee not to move them, could win the day over an alternative that moves more than 15,000 fewer people and respects the desires of the vast majority of citizens who testified at the public hearing.
At that hearing, the League of Women voters urged the committee to approve a proposal that had the least impact on the county's voters and was fair, impartial, and free from politics and gerrymandering. I strongly believe the committee failed to heed that charge. I respectfully ask the County Council to reject the committee's proposal and instead adopt Map 304A as the fairest, least disruptive option that also leaves Wheatfield, as we urged, in District 1, in our home, Ellicott City.
Stephen J. Walker