Mayor Curt Lippoldt is a man who has big plans for this small city on the Eastern Shore.
Since 1981 he has worked with the city's improvement association to revitalize the downtown area and encourage business growth along the city's main street.
Last October, as president of the improvement group, he supported the city's efforts to clear out the dozen men who sometimes drank on a corner off the main street by enforcing a little-used antiloitering ordinance.
Now, those efforts to clean up the streets have stirred up suspicion of racial discrimination against the city's blacks, who make up slightly more than one-third of the city's 3,800 residents. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a $110,000 suit last week against the city, charging that police have selectively used an antiloitering law against blacks on downtown sidewalks.
The lawsuit has disturbed many in the city, with some blacks and some whites saying it is justified, and others saying it's not. Those who support the suit argue that there are people who drink and should be picked up, but that other people are being harassed unnecessarily.
And the suit has wounded Mayor Lippoldt, who is white.
Considering how the town's quality of life has improved, the mayor said, the town is "totally shocked" by allegations of discrimination.
Russell Baker, the town administrator, is more blunt: "There's not one iota of racial prejudice," he said, adding that the police patrol areas where white teen-agers gather and drink as frequently as where blacks meet.
This is not the first time that allegations of racism have hit Pocomoke City.
In 1985, civil rights lawyers filed a suit against it and several other Eastern Shore cities, contending that their at-large voting procedures prevented blacks from gaining office.
As a result of that lawsuit, Pocomoke changed its voting procedures to a system that allowed candidates to run from districts, and the city's first black council member, Honiss Webster Cane Jr., was elected earlier this year.
At first glance, Pocomoke City does not seem like a troubled place. First-time visitors are greeted by cheerful signs on Rte. 13 and its main road, Market Street. "The Friendliest Town on the Eastern Shore," boasts the sign in front of the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, and beneath that, the slogan that is repeated on benches around the city, "All-America City Finalist -- 1985."
"This is such a nice place to live," said Irma Hilditch, 64, a white who has lived in Pocomoke for 17 years. "It's a good place to raise children. There's never been any problem between blacks and whites."
Lawson Veeney, owner of Lawson's Nightclub on the corner of Willow Street and Clarke Avenue, supports the city's actions.
"Before they started clearing up the street, there used to be wine bottles on my step," said Lawson, who is black. "The police are doing a fine job. They have never messed with any of my customers that I know of."
And Police Chief Norwood Wimbrow denies that his 11-man force uses selective enforcement.
"We don't harass people -- we just get drunks off the street," he said. "This suit is a big joke. The plaintiffs are not the people of Pocomoke. They are tramps."
But some believe the city has gone too far and is harassing blacks who are not breaking the law.
Keith Chesser, who runs Spide's Fish Market on the corner of Willow Street and Clark Avenue, is one of those. Four of the five plaintiffs named in the case sit on a stoop across the street from his market, he said, and he has seen them harassed by police. His business has been hurt substantially by the police sweeps, he said.
"This is the only corner where they have police cars here," said Chesser, who is white. "They can't run this town like it was 40 years ago."
Two of the plaintiffs who sit across from Spide's say they have been criticized by police for doing nothing more than being on the street. One of them lives in the building whose steps they frequent.
"We live here and like to sit on the steps," said Stanley Johnson, 65. "But they come up to us and say, 'Go up to your room.' "
Lester Aydelotte, 51, said he has been stopped by police for walking up and down the street. "I was told I couldn't stand on the street," he said. "I have a bad leg," he added, motioning toward it with a cane, "and the doctor said I have to walk. I walk two miles a day."
The other plaintiffs are Johnson's brother John, Ronnie Dennis and Samuel Holland.
The antiloitering law dates to 1969, but was not enforced until late last year when the city government began using it as part of its downtown improvement plan. City officials claim they stopped enforcement early this year when they discovered parts of it were unconstitutional, but plaintiffs interviewed said the city stopped enforcing it only about two weeks ago.
Lippoldt, owner of Western Auto on Market Street for 15 years, rents a warehouse that faces Clarke Avenue. Although he tried to turn the warehouse into a bicycle store, he said, complaints by customers about being disturbed by drunks and loiterers forced him to close it. Other business owners also urged the city to do something about the frequent drunken behavior in the area, he said.
"All we're trying to do is get the sidewalks clear, so people are not spat upon or cussed at," he said.
But other residents are not as trusting of the city's motives.
Police Officer Steve Jordan, who is white, said enforcement of public drinking laws are selective. "The uniformity is not there," he said. "We're supposed to patrol the whole area. Some officers do it, and some don't."
His wife Yvonne said the city was right to enforce public drunkenness laws, but added that the enforcement "is out of control."
"The only crime those people have committed is . . . they're black and they're poor," she said. "You have to protect people's rights at the grass-roots level because soon we're not gonna have any rights.