Cheverly officials have asked the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to dismiss a class-action suit filed in March that claims the town's six council wards are unequally drawn and deny black residents full representation on the Town Council.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of Kevin L. Alexander, a black Cheverly resident who ran unsuccessfully last year for a Ward 6 council seat.
The lawsuit notes that there is only one black member of the Town Council, although blacks constitute about half of the town's 5,590 residents. The suit also asserts that Ward 4 -- the only ward represented by a black council member -- has 76 registered voters, compared with more than 1,000 residents in the largest district, Ward 6.
In its request for dismissal, filed earlier this month, Cheverly officials acknowledged that the council wards, last drawn in 1963, are unequally configured, but officials denied that any inconsistent apportionment is racially motivated.
"I couldn't be more upset about the racial discrimination accusations," Mayor Alan Dwyer said. "I think malapportionment is a legislative process and unless they can prove racial discrimination, it doesn't belong in federal court at all. It belongs in the legislative arena, which is where it was."
Dwyer said town officials were aware of the problems and had appointed a commission last summer to examine reapportionment. The town officials had decided to wait for the results of the 1990 census before redrawing council boundaries.
"Obviously, we don't want to use 1980 census data showing 28 percent black population, which would be very inaccurate. That's where the ACLU won't give Cheverly credit for trying to rectify the situation," Dwyer said.
Ward 4 council representative Fred Price Jr., who has publicly supported the ACLU's lawsuit, said at least three of the six council seats should be held by black residents.
The apportionment lawsuit is not the only legal matter keeping town lawyers busy these days.
Earlier this month, Cheverly essentially sued itself when the Town Council voted 5 to 1 to throw out the results of May 7 council elections while seeking an emergency Prince George's Circuit Court opinion on whether the elections were valid.
Town Manager David Warrington said some Cheverly residents complained that election ballots did not include provisions for write-in candidates, as electoral procedures require. The balloting was for four seats on the council.
In uncontested races, town residents elected incumbents Larry S. Beyna and Price to represent Wards 2 and 4, respectively. In Ward 1, unopposed candidate Thomas Foley won his first two-year term. In Ward 5, Daniel J. Murphy defeated Whitney Shiner.
Dwyer said confusion arose because no one had filed as a write-in candidate by the May 4 deadline and voting machines, used in the town for only the second time, left no space on the ballot for such options.
"The reason we're doing this is because of the importance of Cheverly's election process being squeaky clean, and the only way to ensure that is to get a court opinion," Dwyer said. "We want people always to be able to write in Mickey Mouse if they wanted to."
The Town Council's action means that until a court decision, the previous council remains intact, even though two representatives from that council, Norman A. Baxter and Robert W. Heffron, did not seek reelection.
"We're in kind of a limbo," said Price, a council representative since 1986.
Meanwhile, two successful council candidates, Murphy and Foley, remain unseated.
"I went for my swearing-in and was denied my seat," Foley said. "The council members said they were denying all four seats because they had discovered a problem with write-in provisions."
Foley added that he did not believe the council decision was politically motivated. "I think they made a good, honest mistake," he said. "But that doesn't mean I shouldn't stand by and protect my own interests."
Price, a vocal critic of the Town Council, said it took the action to encourage write-in candidates to oppose him in any new election that might be ordered by the court. Robert Tucker, a Ward 4 resident, said residents had approached him to run against Price but he had not decided whether he would file for election.