Dover councilman Lewis facing proposed censure

DOVER — Dover City Councilman Brian E. Lewis is facing a proposed action of censure for violating “the spirit and purpose” of the city’s code of ethics.

The proposed censure is in response to Councilman Lewis’ public questioning in a Delaware State News article on Sept. 26, days after the city’s attorney already offered an opinion, whether fellow City Councilman Tanner Polce should have participated in a council vote on Aug. 14.

City Solicitor Nick Rodriguez issued his opinion on Sept. 13 that Mr. Polce didn’t violate any ethical rules when he participated in a vote involving his part-time employer Wesley College.

The issues have led to Item No. 9 on Monday night’s Dover City Council meeting agenda that reads “Proposed resolution No. 2017-13 censure of Councilman Brian E. Lewis.” A censure is a formal public reprimand. The meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. inside City Hall’s council chambers.

Ronald Poliquin, the attorney representing Councilman Lewis, said he believes the proposed censure should be withdrawn. He plans on speaking on behalf of Mr. Lewis at Monday’s meeting.

Brian E. Lewis

“What I would say to City Council President Tim Slavin is he should consider withdrawing this (resolution),” Mr. Poliquin said. “City Councilman Tanner Polce just got convicted of a DUI and Mr. Slavin wasn’t compelled to push for censure on that.”

Mr. Slavin did not respond to an email or a message left on his cellphone on Friday. Mr. Polce, who had previously said he was “just ready to move on” from the issue, was also unavailable for comment.

President Slavin did release a statement on Sept. 26 via email regarding possible ethics violations by Councilman Lewis.

“There has been concern raised about a potential violation of the Ethics ordinance by Councilman Lewis and I am exploring this issue,” Mr. Slavin wrote. “This is a serious issue and will be dealt with with the requisite seriousness it requires.

“This is further compounded by the apparent misrepresentation of facts to the Delaware State News and, by extension, to the citizens of Dover.”

Mr. Poliquin added that he thinks personal conflicts between Council President Slavin and his client are what led to the proposed censure.

“The way that I see this is that it’s more based on policy and politics rather than providing a legitimate reason to censure somebody,” Mr. Poliquin said. “There’s no precedence in this type of action when you look at censures and what they’re for — they’re not for this type of action.

“People are censured for treating behavioral issues, not for these policy-type disagreements.”

City Councilman David Anderson said he doesn’t see any need for city council to censure his colleague.

“I have a grave concern about the reckless misuse of power represented in the resolution,” Mr. Anderson said. “Council is being politicized to shut out opinions that are unpopular with the Dover elite.

“It is a precedent which must not be adopted or the public will suffer from a lack of transparency on important issues of process.”

City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said in a statement to city council that if members pursue the censure of Mr. Lewis that it could open itself up to potential litigation.

“I would be very disappointed if the council and mayor (were) sued for conspiracy to defame councilman Lewis’s political profile and, therefore, I ask that this resolution be set aside,” he said.

Mr. Sudler offered the recommendation that city council should hold an executive session regarding the matter and “move on … in the best interest of council, mayor and the constituents of Dover.”

Mr. Poliquin voiced concerns over the way the censure issue was added to Monday night’s agenda.

“Council President Slavin added the censure proposal onto Monday night’s city council agenda after 3:30 Thursday afternoon, which gave Mr. Lewis two (business) days to prepare a response,” he said. “That really isn’t fair and Mr. Slavin didn’t give Brian Lewis an opportunity to respond to his concerns and mount a meaningful defense.”

Mr. Poliquin added that city council is not following normal procedure regarding this type of issue.
“There’s a process for this. You file an ethics complaint,” he said. “This is clearly based on somebody trying to make political points here and I think timing of it is very suspect.”

In a letter sent to Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen and city council members, Mr. Poliquin wrote, “Censures should not be passed to score cheap political points. If this ordinance is passed, it will mean anyone who happens to disagree with President Slavin could be subject to censure.

“Councilman Lewis is proud of the work he has done for his constituents and will not be intimidated by these sorts of tactics. I look forward to speaking on behalf of Councilman Lewis at Monday night’s meeting.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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