GORHAM — A lawsuit looms after the Town Council Tuesday unanimously declined to reconsider its vote to deny seating Janet Kuech, a town employee elected to the board Nov. 5.

Kuech, an ed tech at Narragansett Elementary School, defeated incumbent Paul Smith and two other challengers in the election.

The Town Council in a special meeting Nov. 12 voted 4-3 to not seat Kuech, disqualifying her based on an interpretation of the town charter. The charter states that councilors “shall hold no office of emolument or profit under the Town Charter or Ordinances.”

Kuech

“The vote from last month at the special meeting stands,” Town Council Chairwoman Suzanne Phillips said Wednesday.

Before the board voted this week, Kuech, accompanied by attorney Jonathan Goodman of Troubh Heisler law firm, rose to speak but wasn’t recognized.

“You’ve refused to let her speak,” Goodman told town councilors following the vote. “I want that on the record.”

Goodman had delayed filing a lawsuit upon hearing the council might reconsider its vote. He told the American Journal at Tuesday’s meeting he would file a lawsuit soon.

“We’re going to get right back to work on it,” he said.

The vacant seat leaves the council with six members and no possible tiebreaker.

Town Councilor Benjamin Hartwell, the former chairman, said at the meeting that Smith, who was in the audience, should still be on the board because his successor had not been seated.

But Phillips overruled Hartwell.

Gorham resident Charlie Pearson, a lawyer, said earlier in Tuesday’s meeting that he thought the Town Council last month made the right decision. Pearson pointed out that, if seated, Kuech could not vote on a school budget and school construction, “two biggest votes that affect Gorham taxpayers.”

Appearing concerned about establishing a precedent, Town Councilor Jim Hager worried about a “shift of power” with school employees being on the council. Hager was concerned about people serving on the board in the future whose vote or inability to vote on certain issues could “cripple us.”

Town councilors also voted 6-0 to instruct town staff to work with the town’s attorney to draft language for a possible charter amendment to clarify it and define “employee.” Town Councilor Virginia Wilder Cross called the charter language ambiguous. An issue is the definition of “office” as used in the charter’s description of councilor qualifications.

Before the votes, Pearson cautioned town councilors that if the council seats a school employee and then changes its charter to prohibit it, it could expect a visit from the American Civil Liberties Union.

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