Some community leaders from various areas of Montgomery County said they are concerned about a proposed map of new County Council districts.
A redistricting commission recently presented its proposal to the County Council. The first of at least two public hearings is scheduled for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.
County voters approved a ballot measure in November 2020 to increase the number of council districts from five to seven. Because four at-large seats — ones that represent the entire county — will remain, there will be 11 council members instead of nine after next year’s elections.
Under the current proposal, six of the seven districts would be majority-minority districts, although African Americans, Latinos or Asians by themselves are not in the majority in any of the proposed districts.
The only district where non-Hispanic white residents are the majority is in the proposed First District, which includes Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase, and Potomac.
Some community leaders and civic organizations aren’t satisfied with the proposed map.
Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, who is running for the council in District 2, said she appreciated the work of the commission, and that new technology, census data and software means the map is better than in previous redistricting cycles.
But she is concerned about upcounty representation, especially in the northeastern part of the county. That proposed district stretches too far south, through Olney and Sandy Spring, to be considered a true representation of the upcounty, Balcombe said.
That means it will be difficult for voters to elect someone from Damascus, Goshen or Montgomery Village, she said.
“It will be difficult for someone from that area to be elected from that area to the district, because there’s not enough voters up there,” Balcombe said.
Some have expressed concern that the current map divides communities of interest. That includes the Greater Shady Grove Civic Alliance, which represents Derwood, a community near Gaithersburg.
Alliance President Carol Kosary said she is upset that the current map splits up Derwood.
The Derwood community is interested in several issues, ranging from better lighting along local walking and biking trails to how rainfall drains into local watersheds, she said.
It doesn’t make sense that parts of Derwood are included with a district that includes Wheaton, which is much more densely populated, Kosary said.
“We’re currently split between two County Council districts, and it really has never worked well for the community, because you’re never a big enough voice in a district to get the attention of council members,” Kosary said.
She added that having four at-large council members, representing the entire county, is a nice concept, but Derwood has not felt that those at-large officials have been responsive.
Daniel Koroma, however, believes the current map proposal is a good one.
Koroma, a White Oak resident running for the County Council District 5 seat, said the district in the proposed map including White Oak does a better job of representing East County. It’s an area that has been historically underrepresented, he said.
It’s not a perfect map, Koroma said, but it’s about as fair a map for the East County as possible. He said other communities might feel their voice is being split up, but his region has had its challenges.
“If they’re using a racial equity lens, the question is, which area of the county in Montgomery County has been disenfranchised for decades?” Koroma said. “And no one would say the East County hasn’t been part of that.”
Other organizations, however, don’t agree that the map is fair for their communities. That includes multiple groups in North Bethesda.
Amy Ginsburg, executive director of Friends of White Flint, said including North Bethesda in a district with Kensington, Silver Spring and Takoma Park does not make sense. She said residents in her area associate themselves with the economic and political communities along the Md. 355 corridor.
Ginsburg said the redistricting commission made a mistake when it voted that Rockville and Gaithersburg must be included in the same district, because other communities, including those in North Bethesda, did not receive such consideration.
The commission had a tough job, but the proposed “bowtie” district including North Bethesda southeast to Silver Spring and Takoma Park is not the answer, she said.
“If everybody was happy, you would have put together a modern miracle, but we are going to live with this for 10 years. … Getting it right is far better than getting it done [too quickly],” she said.
John Seelke, a member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, said he is “not a huge fan” of the same district.
Seelke said areas such as North Bethesda and Silver Spring have different local economic needs and overall resources, and one council member in the district would have trouble representing both constituent groups.
Regarding the decision to include Gaithersburg and Rockville in the same district, Seelke said both those of cities have elected mayors and city councils that can advocate for their residents on issues — something unincorporated areas do not have.
“I know that this process is not one that’s going to satisfy everyone, but I do hope that the County Council will look back and consider what are the challenges or problems that could come out of the districts that came together,” Seelke said of the map.
Those interested in testifying at Tuesday’s public hearing can find instructions on how to do so here.
The proposed new County Council district map
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org