The Gorham Town Council is about to look a lot different.

After tension among councilors erupted around the issue of publicly discussing a councilor’s drunken-driving charge, the vice chairman of the seven-person council announced he would step down in November.

Nomination papers for two other seats were available last week, but the councilors whose terms are ending, one of whom is the chairwoman, have said they won’t seek re-election.

All three councilors have given their reasons for ending their service, and none of them has to do with political or personal clashes within the council.

Chairwoman Brenda Caldwell, who was the town clerk for three decades, said she has always made clear that her plan was to serve two terms on the council, then retire for good.

Councilor Matt Mattingly, who is finishing his first term this year, says he wants to focus on another campaign: challenging incumbent Democrat Linda Sanborn for the House District 130 seat.

Vice Chairman Philip Gagnon, who is resigning a year before his first term is up, said a job promotion and new baby on the way wouldn’t allow him the time to continue to serve.

Gagnon announced his intention to step down at a June 25 meeting, when the council was scheduled to vote on whether to accept his resignation. Three councilors — John Pressey, Matt Mattingly and Suzanne Phillips — voted against the order, as a gesture to show that they value his service.

For people who pay attention to council meetings, it’s no surprise those councilors don’t want Gagnon to leave.

“We’ve seen a council that’s been split 4-3, not only on policy, but on personality,” said Bill Wise, a former councilor who regularly watches the televised meetings from home.

That split divides the first-term councilors from the longtime town officials.

Councilor Michael Phinney is the longest serving, with 16 years on the council. Councilor Matthew Robinson was first elected in 2000. And though Caldwell is finishing only her second three-year term, she was intimately familiar with the council’s business as the town clerk.

On either side, councilors see that disparity as a source of disagreements, but not necessarily in a bad way.

“New people come on and perhaps have different expectations of the process,” said Mattingly. “That’s perhaps been the root of tension and disagreement.”

Phinney said it’s natural for new councilors to come in and question the way business is done, and if longer-serving councilors can’t prove an old decision was the right one, they should be willing to reassess it.

“You have to figure out why you decided these things,” he said.

Phinney said much of the disagreement among current councilors is no different than it has been in the past.

But he did acknowledge that the discussion of “personal matters” — namely, a recent operating-under-the-influence charge against Phillips — was unusual and “maybe polarized the council a little bit.”

At a special meeting June 19, soon after media reports about Phillips’ arrest, Robinson requested that the council waive its rules to add an item to the agenda: a discussion of the OUI charge.

A 10-minute debate ensued — primarily between Robinson and Gagnon — about whether it was against council rules to have that discussion.

Amid the debate, Gagnon made an aside to Robinson, in which he referred to a family member. That led Robinson to ask the chair not to allow Gagnon, whom he called a “son of a bitch,” to mention his family members.

At the next meeting, Caldwell said she had received calls from people concerned about public bickering among councilors.

“We are a team,” she told them, “whether we individually like it or not.”

At the same meeting, Gagnon announced his resignation.

Although the councilors say their departures aren’t related to public flare-ups, the imminent turnover is certain to change the dynamic.

Phinney noted that even though three seats are open, they won’t necessarily be filled by brand-new councilors. And whether the newly elected councilors have held elected office before, he said, will likely affect how they approach the job.

“Who knows who’s running?” Phinney said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

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