Since 1956, a County Council of seven — most of them white and most of them men — has represented Baltimore County. That could change after a vote Monday to put the question of whether the council should expand on the ballot.

Though the council members have discussed changes to the body since the 1970s, they’ve never gotten this close to asking the voters to codify changes in the law. The question has become increasingly important, as the population has quadrupled to nearly 850,000 in the last 70 years. People of color make up half the population. The county is 30% Black with a fast-growing immigrant population from Arabic and Hispanic countries.

Today’s County Council includes seven men, six of whom are white. Many civil rights groups and progressive activists have complained the councilmen do not represent the diversifying county and its myriad interests, including affordable housing and accessible transit.

Baltimore County Councilmen Julian Jones and Pat Young, both Democrats, at a zoning hearing in Dundalk in June 2024. (Rona Kobell)

The council needs five votes to put the measure on the ballot in 2024. If the voters approve the measure, the council would expand by two members in 2026. The council would have to redraw political maps to determine where to put the additional districts, and it would have to alter the number of appointments to the planning board and board of appeals so the new council members also have representation there.

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

Council Chairman Izzy Patoka, who has been championing the cause of expansion since a workgroup recommended it in March, said he is confident that he has the five votes.

But of the councilmen polled this past week, only Mike Ertel, a Towson Democrat, said he is supporting it. Republicans Todd Crandell, Wade Kach, and David Marks said they are undecided, as did Democrats Pat Young and Julian Jones.

One provision that may make the legislation more popular with Patoka’s colleagues is a change to make the councilman’s job 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 really a full-time one.

It’s not clear how much the salary would bump up with a switch to full-time. 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 makes $171,912.46 annually.

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The workgroup that recommended expanding the council by two people also recommended making the members full-time.

The group, called the Baltimore County Structure Review Workgroup, included 11 members and met nine times in 2023 and 2024, including holding a public hearing last January. While some wanted to expand by four, the work group’s consensus was to increase by two members.

Those who are undecided offered different reasons for their concerns, ranging from motives of advocates to philosophical reasons about democracy and government.

“In general, I am not in favor of expanding government, which this would do, but I also want to learn from my colleagues who are in support of the bill,” said Crandell, who represents the Dundalk area.

Young, who represents the Catonsville area, said the advocates who have contacted him and come before the council want four new members, not two, and he’s not certain two would allay their concerns.

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Marks, who represents the Perry Hall area, said he’s been put off by a process that Democratic activists have driven, and said he would be more in favor of the expansion if those clamoring for it represented a broader cross-section of the county, including more Republican-leaning areas. Kach said he was “not happy” with the proposed council districts or the lack of public input in drafting a new map.

And Jones, the only Black member of the council, said he’s not sure the expansion will accomplish the goal of increasing diversity.

“No one cares more about diversity than I do,” he said. “But democracy is messy, and no one can say the people we have were not duly elected, and that citizens have choices.”

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 District 6. 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 more well-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.

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The council held public hearings on the proposed referendum on June 11 and June 25.

The voting meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the County Council chambers at 400 Washington Ave., Suite 205.