WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday decided not to remove Councilor Lauren Lessing, D-Ward 3, from her seat after determining she is not in violation of the city charter, contrary to what two residents claimed.

The council was considering a resolution asking what action it wanted to take, if any, about a complaint that Lessing was in violation of the city charter because her husband is a school teacher and as a councilor, she votes on city and school budgets and would gain financially from voting.

Before the council’s consideration of the resolution, resident Chris Rancourt read aloud a statement saying the conflict issue was not about a weak city charter and ineffective code of ethics.

“This issue is about ethics and the perception of our city government,” he said.

The item was placed on the council agenda at the request of Rancourt and resident Gary Maheux, who also spoke Tuesday. Rancourt said Lessing had attended a meeting about the school budget at which a school union representative spoke.

City Solicitor Bill Lee said this was the first time in his memory that such a matter had come before the council, which would make a decision as to how to proceed.

Lee offered councilors information concerning a way to proceed in reviewing the complaint, and Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, read aloud an email Lee sent to councilors spelling out the recommended process.

Maheux and Rancourt made statements outlining their concerns that there was the appearance of a conflict of interest with Lessing.

Councilor Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, said she was at the meeting where Rancourt claimed a union representative spoke and she said no such representative spoke publicly. She asked Rancourt who that union representative was.

“I do not remember the individual’s name,” Rancourt replied.

Lessing said that before she became a councilor, she checked with Lee and the Maine Municipal Association to make sure there would be no conflict with her being on the council and her husband, Uri, being a teacher.

“I cleared it with Bill Lee, I cleared it with MMA,” she said.

She also spoke with her would-be constituents, she said, about it and was elected by 80 percent of voters in her ward, she said.

To turn her back on them now would be “a gross betrayal of their trust,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lee said there is no restriction prohibiting a person from being a councilor if his or her spouse is an employee of the school district.

Councilors Nick Champagne, R-Ward 5, and Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, suggested Lessing recuse herself from voting on the school budget, but Lee said when one votes for the budget, he or she votes “for the whole thing.”

Soule said the school department is a separate legal entity from the city and the council has nothing to do with teacher contracts and is not a party to teacher contracts.

The item was placed on the council agenda at the request of Rancourt and Maheux.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 


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