Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By Leslie Bridgers firstname.lastname@example.org
GORHAM -- A town councilor who was convicted last month for driving drunk will not have to give up her seat, other councilors decided Tuesday.
Derek Davis / Staff Photographer
The vote put to rest an issue that had come up repeatedly in the council's discussions, often at the insistence of Councilor Matthew Robinson, since Suzanne Phillips' arrest in May.
Robinson has said that if he had been in her position, he would have resigned.
Tuesday's was the first council meeting since Phillips, 36, pleaded guilty on Sept. 21 in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court to operating under the influence. Prosecutors dropped a charge of leaving the scene of an accident.
The town charter requires councilors and school board members to vacate their posts if they're convicted of crimes of "moral turpitude," which isn't defined in the charter or in state law, said the town's attorney, Bill Dale.
Phillips was arrested at 1 a.m. on May 4 after allegedly sideswiping two parked cars on School Street in Gorham and driving away.
A crash report said a witness reported the incident to police and Phillips's blood-alcohol content was 0.11 percent. The legal limit for driving is 0.08 percent.
Phillips made a statement Tuesday to the residents of Gorham, saying she wanted "to reassure people that this has not and will not affect my decisions as a councilor" and she is "truly sorry for what happened."
Although no councilors responded to the statement directly, Chairwoman Brenda Caldwell said later that there was "an elephant in the room" regarding the question of what constitutes a crime of moral turpitude.
Robinson said he wanted to vote on the definition at the council's November meeting.
Dale said the definition is not clear in local or state law, but federal law defines the term as a crime that is committed with an intentional wrongful purpose or is reckless and coupled with another aggravating factor, such as serious personal injury.
Dale said that in his opinion, Phillips's crime was reckless but there was no aggravating factor. Still, he said, the council could vote on whether it constituted a crime of moral turpitude.
Without a vote, he said, "there is this unsettling possibility that this issue is always hanging over the council."
Councilor Matt Mattingly asked for the council to take a vote immediately.
Robinson said Mattingly should recuse himself because Phillips' family has donated money to and volunteered for his ongoing campaign for state representative.
In a vote, Robinson was the only councilor who wanted Mattingly to recuse himself.
On the question of whether Phillips committed a crime of moral turpitude, all five councilors at the meeting -- other than Phillips, who was recused -- voted no.
Any councilor on the prevailing side of a vote can request that it be reconsidered. But once there's a vote on the reconsideration, it cannot come up again, Dale said.
Councilor Philip Gagnon brought the vote up for reconsideration, and the motion to reconsider failed.
Now, Dale said, "that issue is done."
Also Tuesday, Gagnon, who announced in June that he would resign from the council in November, said he had changed his mind and would serve the remaining year of his term.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: