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Talent council retains member despite second DUII

TALENT — A City Council member will retain his seat despite his second arrest for drunken driving and driving with a suspended license, the council decided Wednesday in a split vote.

City Council voted, 4-2 ,against the motion to vacate the council seat held by Councilman Edwin Jerome "E.J." McManus, who was convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants in September. McManus was subsequently jailed in November, after he was stopped for driving while his license was suspended.

Under the city charter, the council may declare a seat vacant if a member is convicted of a public offense punishable by loss of liberty.

"E.J. has been an exemplary council member," said Councilman Sherman Lamb. "He seems to have the support of the community. It is not up to us to double the punishment."

Councilwomen Diane Glendenning and Kierstin Brown supported the motion to vacate the seat. It was opposed by Chris Auer, Teresa Cooke, Lamb and McManus himself.

McManus did not declare a conflict of interest before the vote as is required by state law.

The council also voted to write a letter of censure to McManus that will declare it does not support his actions and is opposed to drunken driving.

On Thursday morning, Talent resident John Olson said he would explore options for a voter recall of McManus.

"I'm gong to go down to find out what the recall process is, then I'm going to talk some more with other citizens," said Olson. "I'll talk to all concerned parties from the city manager down, then decide what the next step is."

McManus said he wanted to continue to serve on the council.

"I have disregarded people by my actions," said McManus. "I made poor choices and suffered consequences."

Vacation of McManus' seat was an option rather than a requirement under the city charter, said City Manager Tom Corrigan, reporting on a written opinion by City Attorney Kurt Knudsen.

"I feel there is significant cause for you to resign ... . I wish you would resign," Brown told McManus.

Brown, who made the motion to vacate the seat, said poor decisions made in personal life are reflected in business life.

McManus made mistakes when he chose to drive while intoxicated and also while suspended, said Glendenning. Given the mistakes in his personal life, she questioned his ability to make good choices for the city.

But Auer supported Lamb's position on punishment.

"It feels to me like we are taking on the role of criminal justice," said Auer. "I would feel more comfortable with a recall. I just don't think it is our role to make a decision based on the circumstances."

Cooke said the will of voters should be followed.

"I don't like the thought of the council taking him out of office when the voters put him in there," said Cooke.

Auer asked whether McManus should have abstained from voting. Corrigan said that under Oregon law it is up to council members to declare a conflict of interest when one exists, but they are not prohibited from voting.

Auer argued for a middle ground that led to his motion for the letter of censure after the vacation motion failed.

During public testimony, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteer urged the council to stop drunken driving in the community.

"The clear message from all public officials must be that drunk driving is unacceptable for everyone," said Sandy Nelson of Central Point. "The citizens of this community and this county are watching you. Your action is your message."

McManus was arrested Feb. 19, 2011, by Medford police on a misdemeanor DUII charge. He had been arrested in 2004 on a similar charge in Ashland. Court records showed the first charge was dismissed in 2005 after McManus completed a yearlong diversion program and drug and alcohol treatment.

McManus' license was suspended in September after a jury found him guilty of DUII. Jackson County Circuit Judge Tim Barnack suspended McManus' license for a year and ordered him to serve 45 days in jail and 24 months' probation.

McManus was placed on 45 days' home detention rather than being incarcerated, officials at the Jackson County Jail reported.

McManus was arrested by Phoenix police on Nov. 9 for driving while his license was suspended after he was stopped on South Stage Road.

Originally held in Jackson County Jail for six days, McManus pleaded guilty on Nov. 15 to driving while suspended. He paid fines and fees totaling $300. He was moved to the Jackson County Work Release Detention Center in Talent and missed a Nov. 24 City Council meeting because he was still in the center.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.