It was a mistake to fire Bennett

On Tuesday, the Lewiston City Council made three mistakes.

This shouldn't surprise; this is the same council, after all, that instituted a strict moratorium on downtown development during the worst economic crisis in modern American history. Errors by this council are not only commonplace, but expected.

Tuesday's mistakes, however, were this council's biggest. The first was the surprise firing of City Administrator Jim Bennett, which in hindsight, wasn't all that surprising. Relations between some councilors and Bennett have worsened. There were many rumblings. Yet it was a mistake.

The second mistake is that this insular council greatly underestimated the response to Bennett's dismissal. If they expected hosannas and backslaps for it, they will be disappointed. Although not always beloved, Bennett had earned respect from many in this community for the city's turnaround.

From the Southern Gateway to the All-America City designation, the changing face and fortunes of Lewiston during the past eight years can be directly attributed to Bennett's work. He's managed a city government that's been responsive and responsible. This is not the stuff that wins popularity contests.

Bennett has some high-profile flops as well. He'll forever be remembered — and pilloried — for the Heritage Initiative and the Casella waste-hauling deal. But we would do him a disservice by putting too much attention on these failings; the more important measure is what was accomplished.

By this standard, Bennett's tenure was more than impressive. He was as fine a city manager as Lewiston, or any other city, could have asked for. He won't be unemployed for long.

The third mistake by the council was tactical. In firing Bennett, councilors have shifted attention onto themselves, their flaws and their motives. After Tuesday's meeting, councilors seemed wholly unable to explain their reasons for the firing, except through old clichés and bad analogies.

Mayor Laurent Gilbert, in speaking to a Sun Journal reporter, butchered several baseball metaphors to try to explain the thinking behind the firing. By the end, he only seemed to convey that what Lewiston needed wasn't new management, but a better bullpen.

Councilor Robert Reed, when asked what new direction the city must travel, answered: "I don't know." Other councilors declined to offer their thoughts publicly, for which we're somewhat grateful. We would have had trouble believing what they said.

While we're appraising legacies, this council leaves much to be desired. With papers now out for the next election, there are few accomplishments of note from the past two years. This council will be remembered as the one that fought to attend city staff meetings.

And it will be remembered as the council that fired Jim Bennett.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Peter Blake's picture

Blame the former Lewiston

Blame the former Lewiston City Manager if you will, but the rational is that he only advises the City Council and "THEY" must make the decisions to buy, not buy, renovate, etc. I, Reason, believe that Mr. Bennett was in many cases used as a Scape Goat for political policies and city financial errors. The "Arena" has always been an issue and with a city which thinks that HOCKEY is almighty, of course, you want to save it as it is the "Will" of a strong and outspoken "Minority." He was correct when he advised the City Counselor of the inappropriateness of his presence at a meeting. He did it in a professional manner and for that professional issue there seems to have brewed a real hatred by the city counselor, and I for one am glad that the election is close at hand because there are several city counselors who need replacing. I can only hope that someone more educated and less sensitive will run to replace those who voted Mr. Bennett out. If the citizens of Lewiston want better government, then they have to participate in it. I, Reason, that there is no other way.

Robert Hack Jr.'s picture

How many times can i say

How many times can i say YEAH YEAH YEAH best tihng that ever happened. If the council does nothnig else right the rest of the yr at least this is the one thing they got right.

RAYMOND FRECHETTE's picture

I am not a fan of Mr.

I am not a fan of Mr. Bennett. My opinion is that he had no concern for the citizens of Lewiston, only for new ways to tax them. Trash removal for tenants is one glaring example. While the Southern gateway is a nice set of buildings, the "gateway" leads to the continuation of delapitated buildings and we must remember that 23 units of housing were destroyed, units that were part of the City's rehab program funded a few years previous to their destruction with taxpayer money.

Lewiston is not that big of a City; maybe the first thing that should be looked into at this time is whether the City needs a City manager. Also an assistant manager and all their trappings of secretaries etc. While a larger City in population in the past Lewiston did well without a manager.

Kevin Hanscombe's picture

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DENIS E FORTIER's picture

Robert61: Indeed, I have

Robert61:
Indeed, I have lived in Lewiston for 57 of my 63 years, having been away from Lewiston for 6 years for military service and graduate school. I am a Vietnam veteran, having served in the Air Force for 4 years. I apologize if you took offense at my first blog; it was half in jest. However, I must disagree with your assessment of the complexity of running a healthcare facility versus the complexity of running a city such as Lewiston. Do you have large public works projects to initiate, develop, and see through to completion? Do you have police and fire departments to oversee and manage? Do you have day-to-day activities such as street paving, snow removal, trash collection, etc etc etc.? Please do not insult me by your claim that running your health care facilities is more complex than running a City.

I believe your intentions for being on the City Council are commendable. However, I totally disagree with whatever motivates you to be part of the developing effort by the City Council to change the city charter in order to give the council more power in running the day-to-day operations of city government. That would be a move "back to the future" which would harm the city of Lewiston tremendously.

Once again, I apologize for my earlier entry. I will make this commitment to you, that any future comments I make will be kept totally professional. I trust that your responses to my entries will reflect the same care and attention to the issue addressed. Thank you fro serving on the Lewiston City Council. In our society, we must be able to discuss our differences in a civil manner and somehow come to a point of resolution.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!!!

I had to hold my ribs they ached so much from laughing after I read your editorial. I don't known what planet your editorial staff lives on but .... quote:

" The second mistake is that this insular council greatly
underestimated the response to Bennett's dismissal."

The only response I have heard from umpteen friends is: "The King is dead. Long live the King. The King is dead" No one in their right mind was sad to see 'King James" go his merry way into the twilight. Your "brilliant" editorial went on to say .... quote:

"Although not always beloved, Bennett had earned respect from many in this community for the city's turnaround. From the Southern Gateway to the All-America City designation, the changing face and fortunes of Lewiston during the past eight years can be directly attributed to Bennett's work"

All America City? What a joke! Pot holes everywhere on the downtown city streets so big you could plant trees in them. A downtown so disgraced that you have to search far and wide for a commercial retail business that was there just five years ago. Changing the "face" of Lewiston I will agree with .... downtown has changed to 'Little Mogadishu!' If you call that a good fortune, I'll sell you the Brooklyn bridge.

This city council should hold its heads high. They are the good Lewiston citizens that finally woke up to the "non administrative" stance King James was taking .... while all the while trying to consolidate a "political base" that would have put a strangle hold
on anything and everything the city might try to do to pull itself out of the oblivion it now finds itself.

DENIS E FORTIER's picture

Every Tuesday evening, I

Every Tuesday evening, I spend a little time watching the 7 Stooges on Community TV. I would laugh if it were not so sad for our City. We have The Silent One, the Deer in the Headlights one, the Little Emperor wannabe, the Big Emperor wannabe, the Boss Hawg one, the Bean Counter one, and the Twins. For the most part, as a Council they are pathetic. While I do not agree with a lot of what Jim Bennett did, he was an effective City Administrator. While he may be responsible for creating a debt over the Colisee, in the long run it is the only way that dump could have been upgraded. Now it is out of the city's hands as it should be.
I am particularly dismayed at the Council for attempting to interfere with the day-to-day operations of our very dedicated staff across the spectrum. Mr. Reed has expounded on multi-tasking based on his experience with a health care management firm. The reality is that managing a City is far different than managing a single-purpose entity as does Mr. Reed. It is much more complex, and much of what city staff do is mandated by rules and regulations that are imposed upon us by the State or the Federal Government.
We hear from Mr. Theriault that we need to look at the City charter, but we did that 25 or so years ago in order to escape the very practices that Mr. Theriault would want city government to revert to. If we once again empower the City Council to be the hiring and firing authority for line staff, then we will revert to corruption and kickbacks as was so rampant in the 50's and 60's.
No thanks, folks, let's rid ourselves of this Ship of Fools in November

Tony Morin's picture

I was wondering the same

I was wondering the same thing Jay Bee. Maybe we the citizens should have a closed door meeting with the city attorney to review the charter.

 's picture

The rediculous Keystone cop

The rediculous Keystone cop display by this council is an embarrassment and the lack of sheer intellect by Gilbert is mind numbing. He really isn't doing the City of Lewiston any favors when he opens his mouth only removing any doubt that he hasn't a clue as to what he is doing. This council and current mayor remind me of a bad latenite Adult Swim show.

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