LEWISTON — Saying it wouldn't be responsible to delay hiring a new top administrator, councilors voted Tuesday to try to fill the job in the next three months.
"It would be councilors abdicating their responsibility to do their job," Mayor Larry Gilbert said. "You are elected until you are no longer in office. This council has a responsibility to do this."
Councilors said they needed more time to settle on a process for finding a new city administrator. They scheduled a special workshop meeting for 6:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss who should serve on a citizen search committee — citizens chosen by ward or by social and economic group.
The city administrator's job has been a political issue since the council voted 5-2 in July to fire Jim Bennett without cause and buy out his contract for $110,000 plus benefits. A group, led by Tom and Nelson Peters, city councilors in wards 1 and 2 and the two dissenting votes on the Bennett firing, met at the Ramada Inn earlier this month to urge councilors to put off hiring a new administrator until a new council is seated.
That group was well-represented Tuesday. It included mayoral candidates Nick Knowlton and Michael Dumas, council candidate Donald D'Auteuil and former councilors Renee Bernier, Norm Rousseau and Joyce Bilodeau, all urging a delay in the search.
"This is too important a decision for the city to give this a rush job," Bilodeau said.
But sitting councilors had their defenders. Dan Gregoire of Mitchell Street said he had faith in councilors.
"Firing anyone is never easy," Gregoire said. "What you did was make a tough decision, but I think it was the right one."
Robert Soucy of 373 Pinewoods Road agreed.
"I think this council should do as it sees fit," he said. "Afterward, if we don't like your decision, then we can throw stones."
For a majority of councilors, that meant not waiting. Councilor Betty Dube said new councilors have plenty to learn upon assuming office. That would add another delay to bringing in a new administrator.
"To learn to work with each other, and get settled on your new committees, to take this very important decision on top of all of this orientation is a big burden," she said.
Councilors voted 5-2 not to delay the process, with the Peters brothers dissenting.
That left the decision of the hiring process. The city has received 26 resumes for the position so far, and will accept applications through Sept. 1.
Councilor Robert Reed said he favored creating a committee to review the applicants and recommend final candidates to the council. He suggested one person be selected from each ward, along with three or for city department heads. He also recommended Auburn City Administrator Glenn Aho be invited to join the committee.
"I think that's important, because we want the two cities to work together as much as possible," Reed said.
But Ari Rosenberg and Barbara Rankins of the Visible Community, a downtown advocacy group, argued against appointing citizens to the committee based on ward. They recommended having social and economic groups — including downtown residents, rural residents, immigrants, business owners and social agency members — fill the committee.
Councilors said that sounded like a good idea, but it needed further discussion. They decided to postpone those discussions until Thursday's special workshop.