Redistricting legal fees debated Mayor frees funds, warns of conflict

February 15, 1991|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has dipped into a special law department contingency fund to give the City Council $8,500 to pay outside lawyers who will advise the council on redistricting.

But the mayor has warned the council that no more money may be available if the city is sued over the redistricting issue, and the council may have to come up with its own source of funds.

Normally the city solicitor and the law department defend the mayor and City Council in lawsuits against the city.

However, Schmoke and the city solicitor, Neal M. Janey, have told the council that the solicitor will defend only the mayor's interests in a redistricting lawsuit against the city, because the mayor's interests may be different from the council's.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke disputes that interpretation and says the city is obligated to pay the council's expenses in a lawsuit.

The City Charter requires the council to approve a redistricting plan, she says. "We have a right to legal representation and the administration will have to find the money to pay for it," she says.

Clarke says she favors hiring Jeffrey M. Wice and Wayne R. Arden, two Washington lawyers who specialize in redistricting and the federal Voting Rights Act.

The two attorneys briefed the council last week and called the mayor's redistricting plan a "casebook example of a voting rights violation." Since the briefing, council members have been saying the mayor's plan needs drastic changes to avoid a court challenge.

The mayor submitted his redistricting plan to the council in January. The council has until March 28 to approve the mayor's plan, amend it or approve a new plan drafted by the council. Subdivisions are required to redraw their legislative districts every 10 years after the U.S. Census.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union have threatened to file suit because blacks are underrepresented on the council. Blacks make up more than 60 percent of the city's population, but there are only seven blacks on the 19-member council. The NAACP and the ACLU contend that existing council district boundaries serve to dilute black voting strength.

The mayor's plan would not drastically overhaul the six three-member councilmanic districts. The most notable changes would move some precincts from the 2nd to the 4th districts and others from the 4th to the 6th.

Critics contend that the mayor's plan would do too little to increase black representation on the council.

If the council drafts a plan that becomes embroiled in a lengthy court battle, there won't be money for the council's legal fees, Schmoke warns. "If I had to provide that kind of money today, it just isn't there," he says.

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