By a 6-3 vote, Dover city council approved a censure vote against one of its own.
Members of Dover’s city council Monday night took the rare step of publicly rebuking one of their own.
By a 6-3 vote, council approved a censure motion against Second District Councilman Brian E. Lewis. In the resolution, Lewis was accused of violating “the spirit and purpose” of a city ordinance laying out a code of conduct and “for conducting himself in a manner which violates the spirit and purpose of his oath of office.”
Lewis and fellow councilmen David Anderson and Roy Sudler voted nay, with the latter two having mounted a detailed defense of Lewis before the vote.
Both indicated beforehand they would vote against the measure.
Anderson tried to remove the censure resolution from the agenda; removing an item is rarely a controversial action and almost always is accepted. However, Anderson’s motion failed 3-6, with himself, Sudler and Lewis outvoted. They also attempted to stop the censure resolution by voting against a motion to accept the original agenda.
In a Sept. 20 Delaware State News story, Lewis is quoted as saying he asked for a legal opinion about a recent vote to sell the former city library to Wesley College.
Lewis said a constituent approached him with worries fellow council member Tanner Polce had a conflict of interest regarding his vote in favor of the sale. Polce, who has taught several classes at Wesley, denied his affiliation with the college had swayed his vote.
According to the censure resolution, on Sept. 13 Lewis asked for a legal clarification on Polce’s vote and on the same day was told by City Solicitor Nicholas Rodriguez there was no conflict of interest.
However, after receiving the opinion, Lewis “contacted the Delaware State News to encourage news coverage of the perceived conflict of interest.”
At the meeting, after Lewis’ attorney Ron Poliquin was denied the opportunity to speak, Lewis himself spoke in his defense.
The one-term councilman did not deny the statements to the State News, but said he did not bring up Rodriguez’s email because he did not consider it official.
“But to my knowledge, there are more than just financial conflicts of interest,” Lewis said, saying such conflicts “may not rise to the level of a legal conflict of interest.”
As such, “I did not believe Mr. Rodriguez’s short email of a paragraph constituted an official legal opinion since he did not address all of my concerns.”
Lewis said he considers city solicitor opinions valid when they’re on Rodriguez’s official letterhead with copies sent to council and the mayor, not when they’re in an email.
Lewis denied he had told reporter Mike Finney that no legal opinion had been issued, but said there might have been “inadvertent miscommunication.”
In hindsight, Lewis said he should have told Finney about the email; he regretted “any confusion that was caused by such an omission.”
Speaking after the session, Lewis repeated his assertion the question of his conduct should have been put before the city’s Ethics Commission. He said he had been waiting for an “official” communication from Rodriguez but did not say why he had not asked the solicitor to answer his other concerns.
Poliquin said the vote was “a black eye on the city council, not a black eye on Brian Lewis.”
The reprimand has no effect on Lewis’ standing as a councilman nor as a member of its committees. Poloquin said he may investigate a possible lawsuit by Lewis against the city.
This type of action against a sitting council member has taken place only once before. In May 2006, council members approved a censure resolution against Robert G. Ritter because of statements he made in public about discussions during a closed executive session.