Four months after a Prince William Circuit Court three-judge panel nullified the results of Haymarket's May 1 mayoral election, the town is still in a wait-and-see position.

Ousted mayor Terri R. Freeborn has appealed the panel's ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court and it could be a year before it takes any action. Town Attorney Turner Smith has advised the Town Council and Acting Mayor John R. Kapp not to appoint anyone until the appeal is ruled on or dropped.

Richard G. Bird, who received four votes fewer than Freeborn's 24 votes in his bid for mayor, successfully contested the election. He argued that because Freeborn's name remained on the ballot when she officially withdrew her candidacy a month before the election, voters were confused and the election results skewed. The three-judge panel ruled in Bird's favor, setting off a post-court battle over how to fill the mayor's seat.

"It's mixed us up quite a bit," said Fewell Melton, a resident who has served on the council and as mayor.

The Town Council is conducting business as usual, but the mayoral situation "is still undecided -- still up in the air," said David DeCarlo, who serves on the town's Planning Commission. "And until it gets resolved, there is going to be a bit of division."

One resident, Lynda Farr, said: "There's no outward conflict, only inward. We have only one grocery store, one post office, one bank, one hardware store. Everybody has to see each other, so outwards they are conciliatory and inwards {bickering} just to the point of ridiculousness."

Bird and his attorney, Steven Woodside, threatened to file an injunction or suit against the Town Council to prevent it from reappointing Freeborn. Petitions for Freeborn and Bird were circulated, but only the one for Freeborn, which had 63 signatures, was presented to the Town Council. In early November, Freeborn filed her appeal, saying she would drop it if the council reappointed her.

After several rowdy council meetings, lobbying for Freeborn and for Bird is beginning to subside. Recently Bird said he would settle for Kapp's appointment as mayor and his appointment to the council, according to Woodside.

But further igniting the controversy are recent allegations by Freeborn that some Haymarket businessmen are trying to exert too much influence on town government, which under her leadership cracked down on town ordinances, revamped planning guidelines and established a new business tax. She claims that these businessmen initially promoted Bird as mayor and are now pushing Kapp for the mayor's seat.

"There is a minority of troublemakers who want to keep things the way they were, and they are succeeding" under the present council, Freeborn said. She pointed to the council's recent decision to modify the new business tax of 10 cents on $100 of gross receipts with a $5,000 ceiling for any business.

Council member Sam Crouch defended the council's actions, saying that without a limit, town fees on businesses could have jumped from $25 annually for a business license to more than $9,000 in some cases.

"I still feel there are enough members of the council that are not 100 percent business oriented," said council member Ron Hancock, who supports Freeborn's reappointment. Freeborn supporters and several council members share her concerns about having an overly influential business community, but they "are a little bit more quiet about it," he said.

Lonnie Whitlow, a member of the Planning Commission, said Haymarket has been working to amend its "good-ole-boy" type of government, which he described as "if you want to put a deck on the side of your house, go ahead." However, Whitlow, who helped circulate the petition for Freeborn, said her recent criticism of some businessmen is unwarranted.

"I feel {Freeborn} is too much anti-business," Whitlow said. "I'm a businessman and {her recent remarks} rubbed me the wrong way."

Freeborn also has criticized the recently organized Gainesville-Haymarket Business and Professional Association, which she describes as a self-appointed advisory committee to the Town Council. The association endorsed the town's new business tax at its current rate.

"It's a defensive posture. If we have organized, it's out of self-preservation," said businessman Tim L. Everett.

On Monday night, the council unanimously agreed to join the business association as a voting, but non-paying, member. "It's not unusual," said Acting Mayor Kapp. "We joined on a non-paying basis to establish a rapport. It's basically a line of communication. If you don't talk to people in town you don't have any idea about what is going on."

Prince William County Attorney Sharon Pandack said nothing "legally precludes" a government from joining any association, but "specific circumstances" could put the Town Council members in a position of potential conflict of interest.