Annapolis redistricting plan stands, judge rules ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

June 25, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A Circuit Court judge dismissed yesterday a suit to overturn Annapolis' aldermanic redistricting plan before next fall's City Council elections.

An Annapolis civic activist and a candidate for City Council charged that the boundaries were drawn illegally because the council did not swear in witnesses at a public hearing.

But Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. said the council was not required to hold a public hearing, so it was free to decide how to conduct the hearing.

"There's no question that the council didn't swear in witnesses at the hearing. The question is: Does that invalidate what was done? I don't think it did," Judge Goudy said yesterday.

Bertina Nick, a civic activist, and Michael T. Brown, the former chairman of the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee and unsuccessful candidate for the 6th District council seat, filed a request for a court order May 21 to prevent the city from using its new councilmanic boundary lines in September's primary election.

Mr. Brown said yesterday he was not surprised by the judge's decision. "It was just the old-boy network kicking in," he said.

He threatened to file another suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to prevent the boundaries from taking effect.

In the suit filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, Mr. Brown and Ms. Nick claimed that Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and the City Council violated the city code at a public hearing on the redistricting plan by failing to swear in witnesses, allow for cross-examination and label any exhibits presented by witnesses.

Mr. Brown said the federal suit will be based on a claim that the current redistricting plan leaves blacks under-represented in a city that is one-third black.

The 1990 Census found that blacks make up 33 percent of the city's population of 33,187, down 2.4 percent from the 1980 Census.

Mr. Brown, who is black, said he is pushing for the 6th District to become the third black-majority district in the city.

He lost by four votes to Republican Alderman Wayne Turner in a race four years ago for that district seat.

The plan adopted by the mayor and City Council May, 4, 1992, includes two black-majority districts.

Alan Legum, the lawyer for Mr. Brown and Ms. Nick, said that once the City Council agreed to hold a public hearing in January 1992, the mayor was required by the city code to swear in anyone who testifies.

He said that Alderman Carl Snowden protested at the hearing that witnesses must be sworn in.

"We're just saying that what was done here was not done properly," Mr. Legum told Judge Goudy.

But Jonathan Hodgson, city attorney, argued that the part of the city code dealing with public hearings was a set of recommended rules of procedure, not law.

He said that Mr. Brown was heard by the council, that his plan for aldermanic boundaries was considered, and that the public hearing was not a mandatory part of the process but an attempt to gather public input and be "as inclusive as possible."

"I'm sure he has a special interest because he doesn't feel he can get elected in this ward, as it's presently configured," Mr. Hodgson said.

"This is a disingenuous attempt to create havoc in the city government as we approach an election."

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