Dover councilman upset with censure request findings

Brian E. Lewis

DOVER — Dover City Councilman Brian Lewis and his attorney said they were not surprised at the lack of documents they received from the city on Monday regarding the councilman’s censure.

City Council censured Councilman Lewis on Oct. 9 for violating “the spirit” of the city’s ethics code. City Council President Tim Slavin’s resolution for the censure said Mr. Lewis “promoted an unfounded allegation of a potential ethics violation against a member of council.”

Mr. Lewis’ attorney, Ron Poliquin, asked the city for documents related to the censure in a Freedom of Information request.

“The FOIA response confirmed that President Slavin misled the council and the public when he told Councilman Fred Neil that he confirmed the allegations in the Censure Resolution,” Councilman Lewis said in an email Wednesday. “According to my attorney, we now know Mr. Slavin did nothing to confirm the allegations.

“In fact, Mr. Slavin refused to discuss this matter with me before the censure when Councilman (David) Anderson reached out to him on my behalf.”

Council President Slavin said there was an easy reason as to why there was no correspondence to share with the FOIA request regarding the proposed censure of Councilman Lewis, which was approved by a 6-3 vote at a council meeting on Oct. 9.

“There is a simple explanation as to why no emails were presented as proof of my confirming the facts in question: I used the phone,” Mr. Slavin said in a statement. “I called the Editor for the Delaware State News, Andy West, and read the proposed language of the resolution of censure as it pertained to interactions with the reporter.

“Mr. West confirmed that the proposed wording was supported by the facts of the situation.”

On Wednesday, Mr. West said he told Mr. Slavin at the time that the newspaper stood by its story, published Sept. 26.

The story said Mr. Lewis did not disclose in earlier interviews for a Sept. 20 story that he already had received a response to his conflict of interest query regarding Councilman Tanner Polce’s vote on a deal to transfer the Dover Library to Wesley College where Councilman Polce was employed part time.

The Sept. 20 story quoted Mr. Lewis as saying, “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.”

Councilman Lewis had contacted the Delaware State News on Sept. 16 and Sept. 19 to encourage news coverage of a perceived conflict of interest by fellow councilman Polce.

City Solicitor Nick Rodriguez on Sept. 13 wrote in an email to Councilman Lewis that he saw no conflict of interest on Councilman Polce’s part.

The Dover City Clerk’s office, in response to a request by the Delaware State News Wednesday for the correspondence between Councilman Lewis and the City Solicitor, did not release any information, saying, “The information you requested is exempt from disclosure under FOIA due to attorney-client privilege.”

During the city council meeting on Oct. 9, Mr. Lewis said, “In my experience, and I am sure the experience of all council members and news reporters, it is not unusual for there to be inadvertent miscommunications issued in a news report.

“However, in retrospect, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have disclosed the email I received from Mr. Rodriguez to (the Delaware State News reporter) in the spirit of full disclosure and regret any confusion that was caused by such an omission.”

Councilman Lewis said he is currently “weighing his options” in regards to how he plans to respond to his censure in the future.

“I am still weighing my options but I want to make sure the public knows the truth about the circumstances leading to my censure,” Mr. Lewis said. “No investigation was conducted prior to Mr. Slavin proposing the censure.

“It is ironic that Mr. Slavin and the council wish to change the ethics ordinance when they can’t follow the one we currently have. If you review the City Code it indicates that there is a process to be followed when someone has an ethics complaint. This process was superseded by Mr. Slavin which was highly inappropriate.”

Mr. Poliquin said the FOIA response he received on Monday “confirms that Council President Tim Slavin took no steps to verify the factual allegations contained in Proposed Resolution No. 2017-13, Censure of Brian Lewis.”

“I think the main thing we are trying to do is get it out in the public so the public knows the facts regarding hypocrisy with Council President Slavin in this case,” Mr. Poliquin said, “especially in light of trying to fix the city’s ethics ordinance.”

Mr. Poliquin said he wasn’t surprised by anything that he saw in the response to his FOIA request.

“I’m not surprised because it kind of confirms what I thought, and that was that President Slavin didn’t do anything to confirm their allegations and the fact there was such little investigation and thought that went into this,” said Mr. Poliquin.

“In the FOIA request you just basically have a couple of emails and in those emails you could see that President Slavin did not want to talk with either Ron Poliquin or Brian Lewis.”

The vote for Councilman Lewis’ censure for violating “the spirit and purpose” of the city’s code of ethics was carried by a roll call vote of 6-3, with Councilmen Lewis, David Anderson and Roy Sudler Jr. voting against the measure. Councilman Polce, Fred Neil, William Hare, Scott Cole, Matthew Lindell and Council President Slavin.

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 FOIA laws.

Mr. Poliquin said Councilman Lewis’ censure was a completely different issue and should not have been considered to be any kind of ethics violation.

“I think this was kind of political playback,” Mr. Poliquin said. “I think Brian Lewis goes to the media about (city) stuff and they’d rather it all fan out in their own little clubhouse.

“When he goes to media they get really upset, but the public should be in the know.”

Council President Slavin denied there was any kind of personal vendetta involved with the censure. He indicated that a much larger issue was at hand during the Oct. 9 council meeting.

“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 to police ourselves.”

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

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