MORGANTOWN — A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Monongalia County Circuit Court is asking for an injunction stopping the City of Morgantown from holding an election until it better equalizes the number of residents in its seven wards.
The suit was brought by Roger Banks, a member of the city’s Ward & Boundary Commission. He is being represented by Michael “Ty” Clifford of Isner Law Office, in Elkins.
The City of Morgantown, Mayor Bill Kawecki, City Manager Paul Brake, Ward & Boundary Commission Chairman Roy Nutter and city council members Rachel Fetty, Ryan Wallace, Jenny Selin, Ron Dulaney, Mark Brazaitis and Barry Wendell are all listed as respondents.
Banks told council in January that a suit was likely coming based on the advice given to him by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, to whom he first took his complaints.
In the suit, Clifford explains that precedent comes from case law dating back to 1964, which says legislative districts should be equal in population — or as the city charter puts it, “shall contain nearly as practicable the same total population.”
That same case law states deviation exceeding 10 percent creates a prima facie violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Clifford said that the most recent report filed by the Ward & Boundary Commission and accepted by city council included deviations of 35 percent in population numbers between wards.
“The city is violating their own standards by not addressing these wards,” Clifford said. “Additionally, the Supreme Court says, anything more than a 10 percent deviation is presumptively unconstitutional.”
According to Clifford, no substantive changes have been made to the city’s ward boundaries since the 1980s.
According to the court filing, a lack of timely data from city staff, as well as the attendance of a Ward & Boundary Commission meeting by Kawecki and City Attorney Ryan Simonton, influenced the commission into filing a report despite the known deviations.
Banks, a third-term member of the Ward & Boundary Commission, was the lone vote against presenting the report to city council, which voted unanimously to accept its recommendation of no changes.
“This inaction is a specific violation of Section 7.05 of the Charter. When we realized that there were inequities and we chose not to make those actions, that in and of itself was the violation,” Banks previously stated. “And now council, knowing that those inequities are there and choosing not to take action, that’s negligence.”
Banks is asking for a court order compelling the city to address its wards and an injunction blocking any city election until such action is taken.