Lewiston council fires Administrator Bennett

LEWISTON — Saying it was time for a new direction, city councilors on Tuesday ended Jim Bennett's tenure as Lewiston's top official.

Daryn Slover

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Lewiston City Administrator Jim Bennett leaves the Lewiston City Building after being fired by the city council on Tuesday.

The council shocked a room full of constituents and city
staff, voting to buy out the remainder of Bennett's contract. The decision came at the beginning of a busy City Council agenda and after two
executive sessions.

"It's just time for a change," Councilor Denis Theriault said. "He's worked hard for the city and he's done some great work, but I think it's time for us to go in a different direction."

Councilors voted 5-2 to buy out Bennett's contract, paying him a
full year's salary and health benefits. Only brothers Tom and Nelson
Peters, councilors in Wards 1 and 2, voted against the motion to end
Bennett's contract.

Neither Tom nor Nelson Peters would comment on the decision. Councilors couldn't say specifically what pushed them to make their decision.

"It just kind of happened," Councilor Robert Reed said. "And it's just time to move in a new direction."

Mayor Larry Gilbert, who does not have a vote on the council, said he supported the majority decision. "I think it's the best decision we could have made at this time." 

Bennett disappeared into his office immediately after the vote,
emerging later to leave. He was accompanied by former city councilors
Mark Paradis, Renee Bernier and Normand Rousseau.

Paradis, calling it a sad day for the city, said he planned to take out papers Wednesday morning
to run for elected office.

Councilors  pre-empted a
previously scheduled executive session before their regular meeting to
meet with the city attorney to discuss Bennett's contract. They came
out of that session at 7 p.m. to begin their regular meeting, but immediately went back behind closed
doors to continue their conversation.

They came out 20 minutes later and announced their decision.

Bennett came to Lewiston in March 2002, hired to replace Bogdan Vitas. Councilors at the time hired him away from the city of Westbrook.

He was paid $88,500 a year in 2002 and initially given a three-year contract. That contract has been extended by a year each year, until last year. That was the first time councilors voted not to extend Bennett’s contract. His current contract, paying him $110,000 a year, was set to expire in 2011.

Bennett has had a tense relationship with the current council. It came to a head on May 11 when Councilor Theriault accused him of dividing the council. Theriault had attended a city staff meeting to observe. Bennett later told Theriault that he did not have authority to attend staff meetings.

Theriault called for Bennett's ouster at that meeting.

Bennett said Tuesday councilors were perfectly within their rights.

"It is consistent with the contract," Bennett said. He said he
planned to come back to City Hall on Wednesday to clear out his office.

Mike Blais of Webster Street called the council's action "ugly."

"I didn't agree with everything Jim Bennett did, but he was very
professional and very successful," Blais said. "He worked for his city
for eight years, but tonight he walked out with his tail between his
legs because five of you voted. If I treated my employees that way, shame on me. And shame on you."

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

P.S. Jim Bennett, if you

P.S. Jim Bennett, if you actually read these. I pity you for having to deal with the fools that you have had to. I can now see why it cost the 100 grand to hire/keep you because no one in their right mind would have worked with these guys for anything less. Enjoy your years severence pay. Hopefully you can take a long and OVER due vacation.

 's picture

Robert, you know how to have

Robert, you know how to have cocky little comments, but yet can't answer all these other questions. I don't know what Ward you live in, but I should defiantly move there just so I can get a seat on the Council. Back to the point though YES they should be proud of the Colisee. Atleast when we sunk 10 million into it, it was going to something to actually promote something that draws people from OUTSIDE the city. Which as you SHOULD know draws money to local businesses. Also, having a semi pro team in the City helps promote a better image. If you ask me the 10 million was well worth it as we have the most attractive arena, we are one of 2 cities to have a a semi pro team it and the fact that it has helped the long tarnished image of Lewiston (which one reason why it looks/ed bad is because of the corrupt people we had/have in office). What exactly have you and the council done to be productive, other then argue eachother to death. As for the MaineIACS I'm not so worried about the season ticket holders. The TRUE fans will be there and if they do what they say they are going to do, then they will draw the "casual" fans as well. No offense, but come re-election my money says you don't get your seat back on the city council. You talk about whats "best" for Lewiston. Yet, here you are saying the remodeling of the Colisee and the MaineIACS was a bad investment? Please don't say I am taking it out of context because I for one can read between the lines. As can any other person with an ounce of intelligence. Feel free to respond, I won't be here to even try to argue with you because you Lewiston Councilors have that art down to a T. Have a nice night :)

 's picture

Rino, if the City would not

Rino, if the City would not have bought the Colisee when it did then the MaineIACS would surely not have stuck around for as long as it has. The Colisee and the MaineIACS are some of the FEW things that Lewiston should be proud of. Name any other city/town outside of Portland that has a pro/semi pro team? While you are at it name any city/town that has an arena that looks as good as the Colisee. As for Bates Mill #5 I am glad that nothing was/has been done to it thus far because it gave us time to figure out exactly all possible avenues for it. I'd rather have it sit empty and figure out possible ways to fill the historic building, then to have demolished it to early and find out later on that there was a possible way to keep it.

 's picture

Pub you might want to read

Pub you might want to read others post more carefully and yes I am asking questions because unlike a lot of people I am pretty knowledgable when it comes to the government.

 's picture

Also, most people on here

Also, most people on here are asking questions in which you have the answers for. As previously stated we don't know everything that goes on within the city council, but it's up to you and the other City Council members to inform your constituents. So, we don't make "wild" assumptions. All we as constituents ask is to do what is in the best interest of the people, the city, to inform and to be honest. If you all do that then no one would be on here talking about back room agendas and such. No offense to you or the council, but I feel the council doesn't do a good enough job to help inform the people. Which is quite critical in keeping everyone happy and keep everyone in the "know."

 's picture

If we didn't care, then why

If we didn't care, then why are all these people asking questions and not really getting any answers? I know that as an elected official we put our faith in you and others to do whats best for the city of Lewiston, but quite frankly any one with any knowledge of government would know that Mr. Bennett did a lot better of a job then anyone in his position would have. Being born and raised here in Lewiston I have seen what this city was before he showed up and how it is now which is A LOT better. At times question the City Councils motives of some of the things that its done including this current situation. Who are you men/women plan on hiring? When will this person be hired? Are they going to be as qualified as Bennett? Will they continue the progress that Bennett started and could have continued? These are ALL question I present to you and the council. IF this person ends up not helping Lewiston progress even further then Bennett has then firing him would be all in vein. Lewiston is a great city and I for one would hate to see it retrogress because a move in which you all thought was "best" for it.

NANCY BARRY's picture

There are plenty of us out

There are plenty of us out there using our real names awaiting responses. Please read the threads.

 's picture

Well since you apparently

Well since you apparently didn't see my response Robert, I'll repost it where you can.

Okay so you answered ONE part of my question. Did you or ANY of the councilors actually ask those whom elected you and those who you represent about keeping or firing Jim Bennett? Also, when the Lewiston Government actually comes out and states ALL the facts will be the day when we stop making "wild" assumptions. As an elected official people look to you and the rest of the council to inform us and give us the facts. Instead it seems to me that you all don't want to answer tough questions and give actual reasoning as to why you fired him. He may had a clause that said he could be fired at any moment for no reason, but you all owe it to the people to give them an answer and please don't give me the whole "going in a different direction" because if that was true you'd know what direction you are now going in. Also, you'd know why you didn't like the direction in which Bennett was leading us. In politics there are no "gray" areas. You are either FOR or AGAINST.

 's picture

Libby Mill is on fire.

Libby Mill is on fire.

 's picture

Okay so you answered ONE

Okay so you answered ONE part of my question. Did you or ANY of the councilors actually ask those whom elected you and those who you represent about keeping or firing Jim Bennett? Also, when the Lewiston Government actually comes out and states ALL the facts will be the day when we stop making "wild" assumptions. As an elected official people look to you and the rest of the council to inform us and give us the facts. Instead it seems to me that you all don't want to answer tough questions and give actual reasoning as to why you fired him. He may had a clause that said he could be fired at any moment for no reason, but you all owe it to the people to give them an answer and please don't give me the whole "going in a different direction" because if that was true you'd know what direction you are now going in. Also, you'd know why you didn't like the direction in which Bennett was leading us. In politics there are no "gray" areas. You are either FOR or AGAINST.

 's picture

Robert aren't you on the

Robert aren't you on the city council? If so what was the point in firing him rather then to have him work out his remaining year? Also, did ANY of Councilors take into consideration to what the citizens (the people who elected you guys) wanted? Seems to me that a majority may not have agreed with him all the time, but still think he did a good job.

NANCY BARRY's picture

I must be missing something.

I must be missing something. Please detail how your six month example comes out budget neutral. And, might other duties be "neglected" during this six month period since Phil has been fully employed previous to this appointment? Hold a lot of respect for Phil but something might need to give??

 's picture

Reed is so full himself. He

Reed is so full himself. He makes me ill.

JON M SHOEMAKER's picture

I totally agree with L-Town.

I totally agree with L-Town. The trash deal would have benefitted Bennett why do you think he tried so desperately to get it passed so many times. Bennett was always looking out for himself. While he might have done a few things to help Lewiston...he mostly helped himself. I say good riddins to bad RUBBISH!!!!. GREAT JOB!!!!JIM.....lol

 's picture

I love the Scott Taylor

I love the Scott Taylor interview of Councilor Reed.. classic..
When asked about the descision..

Councilor Reed: It just kinda happened and it just was time for a new direction..

Scott Taylor: What is the new direction? Do we know what the new direction is?

CR: No..

ST: Okay, do we know what the old direction was.. that we disaggreed with?

CR: That gets us into kind of a grey area..
-----------------------

they have no d@mn clue why they did it... unbelievable

 's picture

Sorry.. i was wrong.. It's

Sorry.. i was wrong..
It's not that they have no clue why they did it....
They did it because they don't like him.

They have no reason behind doing it is what i meant to say....

Dumb.

Leonard.. while i don't agree with the whole Colisee thing as the reason.. i do agree we need them out!

Or send your comments

Or send your comments directly to them by email as I did earlier today.

This excerpt from MaineBiz

This excerpt from MaineBiz on line today says it all--"During Bennett's eight years at the city's helm, he oversaw the development of the city's gateways, the expansion of the Wal-Mart distribution center, downtown renovations, industrial parks and other investments that led the city, in partnership with Auburn, to lead economic development in the state twice in the past eight years."

"During Bennett's eight

"During Bennett's eight years at the city's helm, he oversaw the development of the city's gateways, the expansion of the Wal-Mart distribution center, downtown renovations, industrial parks and other investments that led the city, in partnership with Auburn, to lead economic development in the state twice in the past eight years." ...excerpt from on-line Maine Biz article today.

 's picture

I agree Please someone post

I agree Please someone post a list of Pros about him.

 's picture

The City Council are a bunch

The City Council are a bunch of "tool" bags. I didn't agree with 100% of what Bennett did as most seem to have not agreed with him 100%, but those same people would also say and have said he did a good job with what he had. Not to mention the people he had to work with. The City Council seems to have a personal agenda that the citizens of Lewiston should look into. Atleast when Bennett said he was going to do something (whether we liked it or not) he went out and did it, the City Council can't even do that without arguing with eachother like kids. When this years election comes up I wouldn't vote any of them back in and ditch the Mayor too. Hopefully there is some people out there that want to help Lewiston and it's citizens without all the childish arguing and with out their own personal agendas.

 's picture

I'll second that CRZINN.

I'll second that CRZINN. What are the plans for moving FORWARD, why is getting rid of Mr. Bennett going to help that and WHO do you plan on putting in his place.

Unfortunately we all know the real truth! Which has already been stated but I will repeat. This was dirty politics planned around someone’s kitchen table with out any consideration given to the resident tax payers of Lewiston.

I have seen here "some" uninformed people who think this was a good decision based on rumors that they have heard or misunderstandings about what it is to be a city administrator. Again I will say I didn't always agree with Mr Bennet but he was a professional who really vested himself in the Lewiston Community and made great accomplishments in improving this city as a whole.

Try replacing that!

As a native of Lewiston and

As a native of Lewiston and of a certain age that I can recall where we've been, how we've been perceived and how far we've come in the last several years, I strongly feel the loss of Jim Bennett as our City Manager is a tragedy for our city. As a matter of fact, as someone who has observed and been a part of Lewiston's recent progress, I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under Lewiston's residents.

Bennett was tough but it takes tough to make the difficult decisions a City Manager is faced with in steering a city toward progress. He has the vision to help Lewiston evolve into a vibrant city, attracting young professionals as new residents, keeping our own kids here after they get out of school, and inviting visitors to experience all we have to offer. Vibrant, progressive communities attract new business and more jobs.

It's a very sad state of affairs when our elected officials place internal politics and petty personal feelings ahead of professionalism and the best interests of our community. Tell us, please, Councilors and Mr. Mayor, what is this different direction you feel we should be moving toward? And how do you propose we get there? Do you have a plan? If so, what is it? Lewiston's citizens want to know where you want to lead us. And what if we don't want to go there? What if we liked the direction Bennett was taking us in? It occurs to me that many of you are not representing the wishes of your consituency. My biggest nightmare is that you plan to send us backwards into the negative time warp we were in several years ago...looked down upon and referred to as "the armpit of Maine."

Also, consider this--what potential qualified candidate for the City Manager's job would want to work under these circumstances? Perhaps you hope to hire a puppet you can manipulate to your satisfaction? Not if we can help it!

Firing Jim Bennett is going to cost Lewiston and its citizens more than his salary and benefits....it's going to cost us progress....and it's going to cost us respect.

 's picture

I think the council is a

I think the council is a disgrace to the city...and no! I'm not friends with Bennett! For once I'm glad I live on the other side of the river!

 's picture

Rember this council....all 7

Rember this council....all 7 members of the current council....renewed his contract within the past year...apparently they liked him 12 months ago...

 's picture

Great way to spend $200,000

Great way to spend $200,000 + ....by firing Bennett and because of his contract that the current city council renewed within the past year, have to buy him out for a years salary plus benefits...and then the added cost of searching for a new manager and another $100,000 to a new administrator while still paying Bennetts salry....Great fiscal responsibility on behalf of the Lewiston council... BONEHEADS that they are....Although I do respect the Peters brothers as they seemed to be the only 2 with their heads on straight.

Obviously this firing had been fully pre-planned over somebody's kitchen table as it was the first item of business and a 5-2 vote..

As a sidenote how many of the boneheads are running for re-election.....I know a story in the SJ about a week ago said only wanna-be King Theriault had filed papers at that time...

I would really like to know if councilors Bailey & Dube jknow how to talk or disagree with other council members, as whenever I see a council meeting, neither of them ever say a word and always vote with the majority.

 's picture

You've obviously lost your

You've obviously lost your objectivity.

Here's some facts:
1. Today's city managers have advanced degrees and usually 20+ years of governmental experience.
2. The average tenure of a city manager today is less than five years.
3. Standard benefits include home internet service (to work into the evening and on weekends) and a car (or a car allowance).
4. Due to the "challenging" nature of these positions, a one-year severance is standard.

You complainers need to educate yourselves before you type.

Bravo Keith!

Bravo Keith!

 's picture

Feel free to send the

Thanks for making it

Thanks for making it easy....just sent my comments to them all!

 's picture

For all of you whining about

For all of you whining about his severance, did you "read" that he had a contract? thats what contracts provide! he had a contract to work for the city untill a certain date, and the city council are breaking that contract.

I have been a resident and tax payer in Lewiston for 15 years. And though I haven't agreed with Bennett 100% of the time, he was absolutely the best city administrator the city has ever had. Do any of you people remember who we had previously. The corruption, the total lack of leadership! I DO.

Bennett took this city out of its archaic and old school business model which had a limited world view where Lewiston operated in its own bubble. During his tenure the city was a leader in growth and change. And the city was nationally recognized on multiple occasions. He did this while reducing city hall staffing by almost a third, reducing property taxes, but yet providing better working conditions for the employees of Lewiston.

I have zero respect for this council. It disgusts me the underhandedness in which THIS CITY COUNCIL operates and I am in “fear” of what this NEW direction is. If it goes back to what it was prior to Bennett coming, then I will be moving. Ridiculous!!

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