SOUTH PORTLAND — Ten months into a three-year term, City Councilor Adrian Dowling resigned early Saturday from his District 5 seat representing the city’s western neighborhoods and the Maine Mall area.

His handwritten note, emailed to City Clerk Emily Scully just after midnight Friday, said his resignation from the seven-member council was effective immediately.

Dowling gave no reason in the note for his sudden departure, but it comes after he received blistering criticism for his role last Tuesday in allowing a contentious public discussion of the city attorney’s performance, particularly related to controversial short-term rental regulations.

Mayor Linda Cohen, who heads the council, said she didn’t know why Dowling resigned, but she noted that he had expressed frustration with the way the council operated at recent meetings.

Cohen said she emailed Dowling on Saturday to see if he was open to having a phone conversation. She was aware that he had “taken a lot of heat in the last few days” following a tense council discussion involving the city’s corporation counsel, Sally Daggett, of the law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry in Portland.

Dowling responded to Cohen’s inquiry via email, she said, writing that he was OK and would turn in his city-issued iPad to the city clerk Monday, which he did Monday afternoon.

Dowling’s phone number on the council’s web page is out of service, and he shut down one Twitter account and resumed using a previous account.

When called for comment on his personal phone, Dowling emailed a statement Monday evening.

“The culture of the South Portland City Council must change. Its new mission must be honesty, respect, fairness, communication, openness, competence and accountability,” Dowling wrote.

“One councilor cannot make those changes alone. The entire group must be ready and willing. I hope that day will come,” he said. “I am proud of the things I accomplished during my year on the council. I hope the next District 5 councilor will be welcomed warmly and that he or she will do great things for South Portland.”

HEATED COUNCIL WORKSHOP

At the end of last Tuesday’s council workshop, as councilors discussed topics they might address at future workshops, Councilor Eben Rose charged Daggett with plagiarizing four sentences in a lengthy Oct. 30 memo that explained why she thought the city should establish short-term rental regulations.

The unattributed sentences came from Host Compliance, a third-party web service that had given city officials permission to use its printed information to develop regulations, Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said Monday.

In a written response to Rose’s charge, Daggett said her memo was an informal communication that usually wouldn’t contain formal citations of all sources.

Rose, who regularly disputes Daggett’s legal opinions and has been noticeably combative toward her at recent public meetings, said he wanted to discuss the alleged plagiarism in public and retain another law firm as the city’s legal counsel.

When no other councilor backed Rose’s proposed workshop topic, Dowling seconded Rose’s motion, allowing the public discussion of Daggett’s performance to continue.

Cohen and Councilors Kate Lewis and Maxine Beecher decried Rose’s move as an effort to publicly humiliate Daggett.

“I’m not OK with this,” Lewis said, and Beecher echoed her. Councilors Claude Morgan and Sue Henderson were absent from the meeting but later shared similar concerns.

In an email exchange with Rose after the meeting, Cohen said, “I am repulsed and think publicly humiliating any human being is reprehensible, no matter who it is.”

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At the meeting, Dowling said he seconded Rose’s motion to give Daggett an opportunity to “properly defend herself in the appropriate forum, which is not tonight.” In emails sent after the meeting, Dowling noted that other councilors could have taken steps to ensure that discussion of Daggett’s performance happened behind closed doors.

Jeff Selser, a city resident who is a lawyer, spoke at the meeting and exchanged several emails with Dowling afterward, challenging the councilor’s actions and reasoning.

“The blood is on your hands,” Selser said in an email to Dowling. “You are correct that you didn’t set all this in motion. Rose is the one who orchestrated it all. Rose set everything up, arranged it all, had the victim present, assembled the weapon, loaded the ammunition, adjusted the sight, and put Sally in the crosshairs. But you pulled the trigger, Adrian. You pulled the trigger,” Selser said in another email to Dowling.

SHORT-TERM COUNCILOR

Dowling bristled when Selser described Dowling as “in league with” Rose. Rose and Dowling also were the only councilors who opposed the short-term rental regulations and who voted against sending them to referendum. The citywide vote will take place Nov. 6.

Linden Thigpen was one of several residents at Tuesday’s meeting who expressed concerns about the quality of Daggett’s legal advice, especially related to short-term rentals, and the fact that the council hasn’t reviewed her performance annually.

That’s about to change. The council is scheduled to discuss how it will review Daggett’s performance on Oct. 9 and to conduct the review in executive session Oct. 23.

Jensen Baird issued a statement Monday saying that the firm stands behind Daggett “without reservation,” that the sentences in question don’t constitute plagiarism and that the firm values its decadelong stint as contracted legal counsel for the city of South Portland.

Dowling was elected last fall in an uncontested race to fill a seat held by Brad Fox and he previously served on the Planning Board. A resident of the Brickhill apartment complex, Dowling has been a longtime community advocate to control noise from Portland International Jetport.

Cohen said the council would formally receive Dowling’s resignation at its regular meeting Tuesday and would decide in October when to hold a special election to replace him.

Cohen said she hopes the District 5 seat will be filled by the end of the year – before the council begins fiscal 2020 budget deliberations in early 2019.

Both Cohen and Rose declined to seek re-election and will leave the council in December.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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