Last week, the Lewiston City Council clashed again, this time over who has authority to name a citizen committee to review applicants for the city's top job. Mayor Laurent Gilbert says it is his, while his fellow councilors say they should have a choice.
This debate bogged what should be a simple procedural discussion: how should this council, which created this problem by dismissing the former administrator, fill the job. Instead, it became another example of how wielding power, and not serving the people, is important to this board.
What's ironic, though, is wielding power is just what this council needs to do, rather than delegating the culling of applicants to a citizen committee. That the councilors cannot agree on naming its members is Exhibit A for not having one.
The panel to do the reviewing is the council.
A citizen committee comprised of representatives from diverse community interests, or political appointees, is merely a proxy for the council's responsibility. By farming out the proverbial "heavy lifting," councilors are insulating themselves against negative outcomes. If something goes wrong, the citizen group could provide a tidy scapegoat. This is not inspiring leadership.
In dismissing the former administrator, Jim Bennett, councilors made strong statements about the city of Lewiston needing a new direction. By assuming full control of the administrator search, the council can start to chart this new, fresh course. It can buttress its words with action.
The goals of the citizens committee would remain: Building consensus among various interests and stakeholders of the community, to ensure the final candidate — whoever it is — has a keen understanding and appreciation for the challenges of this city and its management.
Engaging in a little coalition-building, after all, would be a good thing for this council, after all the divisiveness its actions and interactions have caused. Politics can build and destroy; Lewiston politics have been on a tornado-esque path of destruction during recent months. Councilors should use this search as an opportunity to reconnect with constituents, and rebuild political capital.
A panel of citizens would proffer palatable, consensus candidates, like a popularity contest, for the council to select from. Yet it's more important for the councilors to do this, to forge consensus from among the community and, most important, work together themselves.
This can happen if councilors stop arguing over who has power, and simply use the power they has.