Dover council votes 6-3 to censure Lewis

Brian E. Lewis

DOVER — Dover City Council members voted 6-3 Monday to censure Councilman Brian E. Lewis for violating “the spirit and purpose” of the city’s code of ethics.

Councilmen David Anderson, Roy Sudler Jr. and Mr. Lewis voted against the censure at City Hall’s council chambers.

Councilman Lewis, who represents the 2nd District, said he believes his rights were violated during the discussion that preceded the censure vote.

Ronald Poliquin, the lawyer representing the councilman, was not permitted to speak on his client’s behalf during the censure proceedings.

A motion by Councilman Anderson to suspend council rules and let Mr. Poliquin make a presentation and speak on Mr. Lewis’ behalf failed to pass by a 6-3 vote.

“I really believe it’s a sad day,” Mr. Lewis said. “I wasn’t even given the opportunity to defend myself. There’s a process and the process is that an investigation is supposed to take place through the Ethics Commission and that was superseded.

“I was kind of like put before (City Council President Tim) Slavin, who was the judge, the jury and the executioner.”

Councilmen Fred Neil, Scott Cole, William “Bill” Hare, Tanner Polce, Matthew Lindell and Mr. Slavin voted in favor of censuring Mr. Lewis.

“Censure” means a formal reprimand of the councilman.

The censure came 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 Councilman 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.

Councilman Lewis admitted at Monday night’s council meeting that he did receive the response from Mr. Rodriguez on Sept. 13, but said it was not presented on official city letterhead which made him believe it wasn’t an official legal opinion, so he chose not to disclose the information.

Mr. Poliquin said public officials withhold information all the time to the media and that it was no cause for censure.

“You can disagree with how Brian proceeded, but is this an ethics violation?,” Mr. Poliquin said. “They’re censuring him for withholding some type of information from the press. That’s never been censured.

“Give me one example in the entire United States where a public official has been censured because he withheld some piece of information from the media. That happens every day with all sorts of public officials.”

Councilman Hare said the issue could have come to a simpler conclusion had there been better communication between Mr. Lewis and his colleagues, namely Councilman Polce.

“The bottom line it gets down to me is four things: Do your due diligence. Make sure you’ve checked everything out before you make accusations. Two, (have) courtesy for your fellow council people,” Mr. Hare said.

“Three, respect. Respect the other council people, don’t just jump out there. And fairness. Fairness and respect, that’s what it’s about, and I didn’t see that here. With that in mind, I support the resolution.”

Council President Slavin opened the censure discussion by reading a statement.

“While the (proposed censure) resolution is directed toward Councilman Lewis, it is really directed also to a larger issue and that issue is acceptable conduct, which generations of council members before us have established for us,” Mr. Slavin said.

“It is also the acceptable conduct which we practice which influences the future generations of councils that will come after us. As council members, it is our duty and obligation to police ourselves.”

Councilman Lewis became the first city council member to be censured since Robert Ritter on March 13, 2006.

Mr. Ritter was censured for divulging confidential information from an executive session and violated Freedom of Information Act laws.

Councilman Sudler said any one of the council members could face censure just like Mr. Lewis.

“I believe that if an investigation was conducted upon each and every current and past councilperson or mayor, then it would be discovered, that from time to time, we ourselves are guilty of violating the public’s trust by not avoiding conduct that creates a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated, because no one is flawless,” Mr. Sudler said.

At the beginning of Monday night’s City Council meeting, Councilman Anderson made a motion to delete the censure from the agenda. He said the process should first go through Ethics Commission. However, that vote also failed 6-3.

Council’s ultimate decision to censure Councilman Lewis baffled Mr. Poliquin.

“This is a black eye on the city council, not a black eye on Brian Lewis,” Mr. Poliquin said. “He came here contrite. He came here with an explanation. He was denied his right to be represented by counsel … this was a council meeting that ran roughshod over Brian Lewis’ rights and there was no reason for it.

“He did not violate any law. He did not violate any city ordinance and he did not violate the Code of Conduct of the city. So what did he violate? Why was he censured here?”

As for Councilman Lewis, he said he will accept the censure and move forward.

“I’m going to move forward and continue to represent my constituents to the best of my ability as I have been,” he said. “I think it’s a sad day at City Hall when somebody could be accused for something that was not even an issue or wasn’t even in the (city) code, as my attorney pointed out.”

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

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