City law department reverses position on redistricting
The city's law department announced Tuesday that the new City Council boundaries would no longer be effective for representation April 1, a reversal of a decision issued by the department two week ago.
Baltimoreans will vote in the new districts in the fall citywide elections, but the 72,000 residents who were moved into new districts will not be represented by a new council member until December, City Solicitor George Nilson wrote in a memo issued Tuesday afternoon.
Nilson's memo contradicts an opinion penned by Assistant City Solicitor Victor K. Tervala on March 25, who wrote that the new districts would go into effect -- for purposes of both representation and the upcoming election-- on April 1. In the past, residents continued to be represented by their current council member until the new council took office in December.
Nilson interpreted differently a note on a 1994 amendment on which Tervala based his decision.
"Because it is consistent with general expectations, avoids the reported confusion of the last week, and most importantly avoids leaving communities represented for approximately 8 months by person for whom they didn't have an opportunity to vote," the revised interpretation is preferable, Nilson said.
Nilson noted that the language in the charter was vague and should be amended before the next time districts are drawn, a decade from now.
Nilson reviewed Tervala's opinion at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's office, a spokesman said.
Tervala's quietly-issued opinion drew outcry from some residents and community leaders when the Baltimore Sun reported it last week. Throughout a nearly two-month long series of hearings on Rawlings-Blake's new map, council members and a redistricting expert said residents would remain represented by current council members until December.
Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley said the last-minute decision "didn't smell right" and demanded answers from Rawlings-Blake.
"While all of us in the Law Department are dedicated to getting it right the first time, often -- as is the case here -- there is no silver bullet clear cut answer," Nilson wrote. "We appreciate the patience of all who are interested in this subject with our efforts to sort out conflicting and ambiguous Charter provisions.