Baltimore County Council Lags In Representation: Members Serve Triple The Residents Of Nearby Counties


A recent staff commentary from the Baltimore Sun highlighted the stark contrast between Baltimore County's Council and other Maryland jurisdictions. (Photo Credit: Van Fisher/ Patch)

BALTIMORE COUNTY - The seven members of the Baltimore County Council each represent an average of over 120,000 residents, prompting calls for a council expansion and greater diversity among its members.

A recent staff commentary from the Baltimore Sun highlighted the stark contrast between Baltimore County's Council and other Maryland jurisdictions. The Sun reports that each Baltimore County Council member represents an average of 122,076 residents - a far cry from the 41,178 in Baltimore City, 84,333 in Anne Arundel, 66,905 in Howard, and 43,829 in Harford County.

In other words, the average Harford County Council member represents one-third as many residents as their Baltimore County counterparts.

Baltimore County, the state's third most populous jurisdiction, has maintained a seven-member council since 1956 despite the county's population booming from 271,000 to 846,000, according to the latest census estimates. Maryland's first and second largest jurisdictions, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, recently expanded their councils to 11 members.

Local officials and community groups are taking notice of the imbalance - with County Executive Johnny Olszewski signaling his intent to put forth a referendum in 2024. In a tweet responding to the Sun's commentary, he emphasized the area's transformative growth and the necessity to augment the County Council "to provide a more responsive & equitable government."

In 2022, a coalition of residents and local advocacy groups led by Linda Dorsey Walker initiated the Vote4More campaign to expand the Baltimore County Council from seven to eleven members. The group aims to collect 10,000 signatures to put a referendum on the 2024 ballot that would amend the charter to require 11 council districts. The charter amendment would also expand the size of boards and commissions and require new rules around the redistricting process. If passed, these measures would take effect ahead of the 2026 Baltimore County Council election.

In a 2009 op-ed, Baltimore County Councilman David Marks expressed his support for a nine-member council.

"The County Council member from a uniquely Towson district could concentrate on specialized issues such as student housing and the demands of a downtown core," Marks wrote. "A nine-member council would likely retain the partisan balance that brings accountability to Baltimore County government."

The Baltimore County NAACP has long called for a council expansion, seeking greater diversity. The seven-member council currently has one non-white member, Julian E. Jones, despite over 45% of the county's population identifying as non-white. 

The county also faced legal challenges to its 2022 redistricting plan, which was widely criticized for having only one majority-Black district despite roughly 30% of its residents being Black. Civil rights groups, including the Baltimore County League of Women Voters, the Randallstown NAACP, and the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council, filed a lawsuit in December 2022, arguing that the redistricting map violated the Voting Rights Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby ultimately dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice in May 2022 after the county council redrew the 4th district to include more non-white residents. 

Baltimore County's unique absence of incorporated towns or cities exacerbates the need for accurate council representation. Despite Maryland containing 157 incorporated municipalities with constitutional home rule authority—including the power to levy property taxes—Baltimore County has none. Regional hubs such as Towson, with a population exceeding 57,000, remain "unincorporated places."

Baltimore County may seem unusual, but it is not entirely an anomaly within Maryland. The state ranks seventh among those with the fewest local governments in the U.S., boasting just 342 as of 2022.

This figure is particularly surprising considering Maryland's population of over 6 million. For context, Wisconsin, with a population slightly less than Maryland, had a substantial 3,062 local governments in the same year.

You can sign Vote4More's petition by following the instructions on their official website

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