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Home rule would assist county's southern areas

January 31, 2008

We read with interest Lloyd "Pete" Waters' commentary on Jan. 20 that suggested that the proposed home rule charter's single flaw was its omission of districts in electing a county council.

Waters suggested - incorrectly, as it turns out - that the charter board had not thoroughly studied the possibility of districts and that districts would give citizens more immediate access to their government. He is wrong on both counts.

The League of Women Voters of Washington County followed closely the work of the charter board and we know that the charter board spent countless hours examining districts. It was precisely because they studied the issue so closely that they concluded districts offer a false promise to the voter. Because federal law would require that all districts have equal population, a "South County" district would have to extend north nearly to Funkstown. With the population concentrated in the northern part of the district, the council member might still come from the outskirts of Hagerstown.

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We see this phenomenon with South County's representation in the General Assembly and would most likely see it at the county level as well. We doubt that most people in South County would find Waters' "feeling of representation" from a council member so far away.

Conversely, when the charter board tried to guarantee geographic representation to individual areas, that did not work, either. The equal population requirement would make county government unwieldy. To stay with Waters' example of South County, if the district started at Boonsboro and included everything to the south, the relatively small population would require the county to have 10 districts. The same was true when the charter board tried to guarantee representation to other parts of the county, such as Hancock and Smithsburg. It just did not work.

Districts might be a good idea in the abstract, but they do not currently give Mr. Waters what he wants when put into practice. If the population shifts, making districts viable, however, the charter would allow voters to create districts that work.

Given the failure of districts, the charter board was left to find an alternative that offered the hope of a more geographically diverse County Council. By electing seven Council members, the county has a better chance of electing someone outside Hagerstown's population center. This works both in theory and in practice. In the 2006 commissioner race, had we chosen seven instead of five, we would have a member on the Board of County Commissioners from South County right now - just what Mr. Waters wants.

Pete Waters made a good case on Sunday, but instead of arguing against the charter, his arguments made the case for it.

Fanny Crawford
Monda Sagalkin
Co-presidents,
Washington County
League of Women Voters

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