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The resolution of New Brighton City Council Member David Phillips' prostitution case has inspired another agenda item for Mayor Steve Larson's list for 2009: a code of ethics for city officials.
City residents asked for the measure after Phillips' arrest during a prostitution sting last winter; calls for an ethics code have been renewed now that he has entered a plea, Larson said Wednesday. He hopes to discuss the issue before the beginning of the second quarter.
Phillips, 59, entered an Alford plea last week to a misdemeanor charge of engaging in prostitution. And Phillips, whose term extends through 2011, may have a way to go to repair the broken trust of his constituents. Larson said there's no indication Phillips intends to leave the council before his term ends.
"As city residents, you want your leaders to be people of character and moral value," said Pat Montague, a 15-year New Brighton resident who was having lunch Monday at the Bru House, a coffee shop on Silver Lake Road. "I think these decisions have shown him to be neither of those."
Phillips was caught in a prostitution sting in the Midway area of St. Paul last winter; in the five months since, he and attorney Earl Gray lobbied to have the charges thrown out, arguing that errors made in the undercover officer's report constituted misconduct. Phillips entered the plea Nov. 26, two days after Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann issued a ruling dismissing those claims. A defendant entering an Alford plea typically acknowledges that evidence would be sufficient for a conviction but does not admit guilt.
Phillips did not respond to interview requests made by telephone and e-mail to his home and his office.
Last week, Larson noted that Phillips cannot be removed from the council in retribution for a misdemeanor offense and that he would not ask the first-term council member to resign. His City Council colleagues also declined to comment. A code of ethics would not allow the city to fire a member for cause; it would give the council a vehicle to censure members, however.
It's typical of U.S. society that officials are held accountable in their public lives for private misconduct, whether or not their errors were relevant to the administration of public policy, said Wy Spano, director of the Master in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
"The ultimate problem here is the question of the perception of the public, and that is problematic," he said, "not from standpoint of ethics but from the standpoint of public relations. And in that venue, more is always less. The more stories there are about what you did wrong and how you're trying to say you didn't, that just doesn't help."
The judge stayed imposition of a jail sentence for Phillips and ordered him to pay a $500 fine and other court costs. He will be on probation for one year and must complete "john school" -- a program for people convicted of hiring prostitutes. If he completes all the conditions of probation, the charge will be dismissed after one year.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409