Dover councilman accuses colleague of conflict of interest in library-Wesley deal

Tanner Polce

Brian E. Lewis

DOVER — Dover City Councilman Brian Lewis said one of his constituents approached him recently about concerns that Councilmen Tanner Polce might have crossed the line when it comes to conflict of interest.

But Mr. Polce, one of six councilmen to vote on Aug. 14 for the city of Dover to sell the old public library building to Wesley College for $1 — plus more than $1 million in Community Transportation Funds from Sen. Colin Bonini and Rep. Sean Lynn — said that it is not the case.

Mr. Polce said he has been transparent in letting citizens know that he is a part-time employee of Wesley College. He said he made that clear when he was running for office and added that it’s even listed on his biography on the city’s website.

He also said that his political decisions are not swayed by a part-time job with Wesley that he makes around $5,000 per year doing.

Mr. Polce has taught three to four classes a year in both Wesley’s Political Science and Business Departments as an adjunct faculty member since the fall of 2014.

He teaches classes that are part of the Continuing Education Program for Air Force personnel at Dover Air Force Base. He added that he makes $1,800 for each class that he teaches.
“Believe me, there’s no conflict of interest, especially from the legal definition,” said Mr. Polce, who at age 26 is believed to be the youngest member in Dover City Council’s history. “I’m not profiteering from the city’s decision to give the college the library.

“I know historically that statewide officials recuse themselves from different decisions to hide politically. However, this is a decision that I’m going to stand behind.”

Mr. Polce’s primary job is serving as the policy director for Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long.

Mr. Lewis, who was taking care of personal issues at the time and was unable to vote on the library-Wesley deal, said he takes it as a great responsibility to answer the concerns of his constituents, which is why he requested the legal opinion.

“I have requested a legal opinion from our city solicitor (Nicholas Rodriguez) in regard to a potential conflict of interest by a councilman’s vote,” Mr. Lewis said. “This was brought to my attention by a constituent in my district who had concerns with the vote of Councilman Polce.”

Mr. Lewis said he has yet to hear back from Mr. Rodriguez regarding his opinion on the matter.

In his letter to the city solicitor, Mr. Lewis wrote, “My understanding is Councilman Polce was one of the council members casting a vote on this agreement. It has come to my awareness that Councilman Polce is a current employee of Wesley College and this fact was not disclosed prior to the vote.

“I would appreciate you reviewing and advising if this is a potential conflict of interest.”

Mr. Lewis added when he served on city council with former Councilman James Hosfelt that he always recused himself on matters that involved his employer Dover International Speedway/Dover Downs and the city of Dover.”

Mr. Polce insisted that his decision on voting to sell the old library to Wesley College was based on the merits of the deal and not his relationship with the school.

“Wesley is a wonderful educational institution and Dover’s economy walks hand-and-hand with Wesley,” he said. “When Wesley grows so does Dover. I’m proud of my vote and if I had to do it all over again, I would, because it makes Dover a better place.”

Mr. Polce said the old public library-Wesley deal was an obvious one because it benefitted all parties involved – both city and school.

“I’m very optimistic of Wesley’s plans to place health sciences in the building,” said Mr. Polce. “Think about the possibilities if Wesley selects to move their Master of Occupational Therapy program, which is the only one in the region, to the location.

“These are the very steps our council should be taking to ensure Dover is prosperous and I’m happy to go toe-to-toe with anybody who thinks differently.”

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

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