The Baltimore County Council voted Monday night to advance a measure that would add two new members in hopes of producing a governing body that looks more like its increasingly diverse population.

The plan would increase the number of county council members from seven to nine, the first major change to its membership in decades. The council is now all-male and nearly all-white, while people of color now make up half of the county population.

Monday’s historic vote means the proposal will go before voters this fall as a charter amendment. If it passes, candidates for the two new seats would appear on the ballot in 2026.

The vote was 5-1, with Pat Young, a Democrat from the Catonsville area, voting nay. Young said he strongly supports efforts to make the council more diverse but expressed concern about the process involved in drawing new political maps to reflect the membership change. Democrat Julian Jones, the council’s only Black member, was not present.

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“I applaud tonight’s decision by Councilmembers to answer our call and empower voters to make their voices heard on expanding the County Council and provide a more responsive and equitable government,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement. But he echoed Young’s concern over the political maps. “Should voters approve Council expansion, I strongly encourage Councilmembers to provide a more responsive, equitable and inclusive map-drawing process.”

Newly proposed maps would split the west side district into two smaller ones, creating a pair of districts where the Black population is far higher than the white population and where a minority candidate might prevail. Jones now represents that area.

If voters approve the change, it will be the first time since 1956 that the council has had more than seven members. Since then, the county’s population has quadrupled to more than 840,000. The county is 30% Black, with a fast-growing immigrant population from Arabic and Hispanic countries.

The effort would cost approximately $1.4 million in increased annual operating costs and $12.2 million in (one-time) capital improvement costs.

The council member’s job would also become a full-time position. Currently, each councilman makes $69,000 a year, with the exception of the chair, who makes $77,000. Some have other jobs, even though many have said that the position is essentially a full-time one.

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In Montgomery County, council members have been full-time since voters approved a 2006 ballot. There, the members make $156,284 per year and the council president is paid $171,912 annually. It is not clear yet what the salary would be for full-time Baltimore County Council members.

The most recent push to expand the council began with the Baltimore County Structure Review Workgroup, which included 11 members and met nine times in 2023 and 2024. While some in the group wanted to expand the seven-member council by four members, the work group’s consensus was to add two new seats. That is what its members recommended to the council in March.

After the workgroup concluded, most council members said they were undecided.

Todd Crandell, a Republican from the Dundalk area, did not like the idea of expanding government. David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said he was put off by a process that he said had been driven by Democratic activists. Republican Wade Kach, who represents the northern part of the county, said he was “not happy” with the proposed council districts and the lack of public input in drafting a new map. Jones said he was not sure the maps would increase diversity. Only Mike Ertel, a Towson Democrat, initially joined Chairman Izzy Patoka favoring an expansion.

Getting the councilmen to agree took compromise, Patoka said. The three Republicans would not agree to any configuration in which they would lose their power and be in a permanent minority status, Patoka said. To get their support, Patoka said, he needed to make maps they could agree on, even if it meant losing part of his own district that he would have rather kept.

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“We needed a sweet spot to make this happen,” Patoka said. “We came up with this configuration.”

Israel “Izzy” Patoka speaks, framed to the left of a person’s shadowed and blurry head.
Baltimore County Councilman Israel “Izzy” Patoka speaks during a town hall about public safety at the Edward A. Myerberg Center in Baltimore on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Young and Kach attempted to advance a proposal to expand the council without the maps and assign that task to a commission, as is typical for redistricting maps. Young also wanted four new members instead of two. The process, he said, “hasn’t sat right with me.”

“I would like as much time as possible to know what my district looks like,” Young said. “I’m not sure I can support this without this particular amendment at least allowing a common backstop.”

Both of Young’s amendments failed.

Proposed new boundaries for Baltimore County Council districts. (Baltimore County government)

In the end, all of the members present voted for the expansion except Young, who nonetheless gave an impassioned speech about the pictures of past council members, who are overwhelmingly white and male, that line the hallway. He talked about wanting a different makeup to represent the needs of his children and their classmates.

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“I think about what I can do in my role and what we can do collectively to make sure that the county I grew up in and the county I’m raising my kids in gives others the same opportunity that it has given me,” Young said to applause.

Several of the current members have had an opponent who was a person of color or a woman; they just didn’t happen to win.

Caitlin Klimm-Kellner ran against Mike Ertel in the District 6 primary. She told the work group studying the expansion that she struggled because the district included 127,000 people. She hailed from the Rosedale side; Ertel, a longtime community organizer, was much better-known in Towson.

“I think that if it was a smaller representation, a more localized district, that would not have been as much of a problem,” Klimm-Kellner told the group.

Ertel went on to prevail against Shafiyq Hinton, a real estate professional active in eastern Baltimore County. Hinton said he would consider running again, but not under the current maps. Though he came within 1,000 votes of beating Ertel in the Towson district, Hinton said the map is currently stacked against him on the east side.

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“The way these maps are drawn, you have no opportunity to have representation outside of a conservative male if you are on the east side,” he said. “We are more than just Dundalk and Essex. These are really diverse communities, and there is no opportunity for folks to have representation that looks like them.”

Hinton said a Black candidate does not need a majority-minority district to win. He believes a Black candidate can win with closer to 35 or 40% minority residency. But on the east side; the districts are overwhelmingly white on the current map.

“You do not need 50% in these communities where people are free thinkers,” he said. “You just need a fair voter breakdown and a good candidate.”