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OUI arrest of Gorham councilor not 'moral turpitude'

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Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 6:11 pm | Updated: 2:45 pm, Thu Oct 4, 2012.

GORHAM – Gorham Town Council members unanimously agreed Tuesday that a colleague’s drunk-driving charge did not constitute “moral turpitude” that would have barred her from serving on the board under town rules.

Suzanne Phillips, 36, was accused by Gorham police of operating under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident on May 4 on School Street. In a plea deal, Phillips last month pleaded guilty in court to the operating under the influence charge but the leaving the scene charge was dismissed. Her license is under suspension and she was fined.

Tuesday’s council vote was 5-0 (Michael Phinney absent and Phillips abstaining). It came following a prepared statement that Phillips read.

“I would like to reassure people that this has not and will not effect the decisions I make as a councilor,” Phillips said. “I want to apologize to anyone whom I have offended or upset by my actions on that night.

“I do need to thank those citizens who have contacted me over the last few months encouraging me to remain on the town council. I am truly sorry for what happened and would like to be able to move on.”

The council vote came following the opinion of town lawyer William Dale that the offense, while reckless, was not intentional and there were no serious personal injuries. Dale suggested a council vote to end the matter.

Town Councilor Matt Mattingly proposed a motion for a vote on the moral-turpitude issue, which was not on the agenda.

Town Councilor Matthew Robinson objected to Mattingly’s participation, citing that the Phillips family has donated $35 and time to Mattingly’s campaign for a legislative seat. But, the council supported  Mattingly’s  participation as the issue drew toward a close.

The council’s vote stood after a reconsideration proposal by Phillip Gagnon, council vice chairman, failed.

Declining a reconsideration appears to have thwarted any further attempt next month following the election, when a new council forms. Caldwell and Mattingly aren’t seeking re-election to the council, but Gagnon Tuesday took back his earlier resignation.

Gagnon’s resignation letter citing personal reasons was received in town hall on June 28 but the council failed to accept it.

Phillips, who was elected in 2011 to a three-year term, announced last week that she did not plan to resign from the council.

The matter of moral turpitude arose at Tuesday’s council meeting when Brenda Caldwell, council chairwoman, asked Dale for his comments.

“It’s not defined in the charter or under Maine law,” said Dale, who added it is in federal statutes.

Before the voting on the Phillips’ matter, Robinson said he had planned to bring the issue up next month under a published agenda item. Robinson argued he wants moral turpitude defined in the town charter.

Dale told the council it was impossible to define with specifics.

In other business, the council postponed a proposal to develop and fund a downtown parking plan and to send the measure to the Economic Development Corp. for a workshop. It also postponed a related item to demolish a house the town bought at 21 Main St. earmarked for parking in Gorham Village.

Both measures were postponed to December with unanimous 6-0 votes.

“You should show a need before we do anything,” Tim Allard of Preble Street said in the meeting.

Jim Means of Beatrice Drive said that the town doesn’t have a parking problem. “Stop wasting our money,” Means said.

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