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.