A Gorham town councilor pleaded not guilty Wednesday to operating under the influence, according to a clerk in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.

Benjamin Hartwell, 34, was charged with drunken driving in March after he drove his car off Fort Hill Road in Gorham and hit a tree.

The incident reignited a discussion among Gorham town councilors about what criminal convictions should force a member of the council to step down.

The council had a similar discussion two years ago, after Councilor Suzanne Phillips pleaded guilty to operating under the influence. Police said she sideswiped two parked cars on School Street in Gorham and drove away.

The council decided, at the time, that drunken driving didn’t constitute a crime of “moral turpitude,” the town charter’s threshold for requiring a councilor to resign.

Earlier this month, the council discussed defining that term within its rules and the town’s charter to include drunken driving convictions. A change to the charter would require voter approval.

The council put off votes on changing the council rules and holding a referendum in November to its meeting in July.

Hartwell’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 29.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @lesliebridgers

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