Lewiston city councilors will convene a special meeting tonight, in executive session, to discuss two finalists for the city administrator position. Councilors-elect are expected to attend as "listeners."
Here's the problem: These councilors-elect are not sworn elected officials yet. They remain mere members of the public and, under Maine's Freedom of Access Act, with very limited exceptions, one member of the public cannot be privy to closed-door meetings unless all members of the "public" are invited to attend.
Lewiston city councilors know all about public meeting requirements.
About two years ago, councilors convened a retreat to discuss their business agenda before they were sworn into office, timing that retreat specifically to avoid falling subject to FOAA. No need to post notices of their meetings or to let the public attend if they weren't yet elected officials, by FOAA definition. They were ordinary citizens talking about the long view of Lewiston.
These same councilors are duly sworn elected officials now and must adhere to Maine's public meetings law. Inviting certain members of the public to "listen" breaks the executive session exception and consumes public trust.
Under the circumstances, though, we understand why councilors-elect might want to listen in to the hiring discussion. The current council is determined to hire a new city administrator before it disbands in January, leaving a fresh council to work with an administrator whom these new council members will have had no hand in hiring.
It's an objectionable push by the current council to foist an administrator appointment on a new council. Especially when the current council had once so vocally objected to being treated the same way.
Two years ago, when current councilors hovered between election and swearing in, they called on their predecessors not to appoint committee members or make major decisions that new councilors would have to uphold. It was better, they argued, to hold off important actions until the new council took its seat to conduct that business.
Now, these same councilors who successfully convinced the preceding council to wait on certain decisions are rushing the city administrator hiring decision before they leave office, despite pleas from the public and some councilors-elect that they hand this task to the new council. It's hypocritical. Extremely so.
Tonight the Lewiston City Council will convene an executive session, with members of the public improperly in attendance, to wrestle between secrecy and hypocrisy. It's a dismal end to a divisive and regrettable two years at City Hall.