Lewiston City Councilor Kristen Cloutier, second from left, adjusts her microphone at the start of Thursday night’s public hearing on the proposed L-A merger. To her right is City Councilor Shane Bouchard, and to her left is Councilor Michael Lachance. Also pictured are city administrators Denis D’Auteuil and Ed Barrett. The four remaining councilors were absent, and the city may hold another hearing after questions were raised about the lack of a quorum.
LEWISTON — A few dozen residents showed up for a public hearing on the merger question Thursday, but the city will most likely do it all over again.
Leading up to the November referendum on whether to merge Lewiston and Auburn, both cities are required by state statute to host a public hearing for feedback on the consolidation agreement, which includes the city charter, among other financial details.
But on Thursday, only three Lewiston city councilors were present at the hearing, held at the Lewiston Middle School auditorium, raising questions over whether the public hearing was official without a council quorum.
In response, city attorney Marty Eisenstein mulled the issue, and said Friday that he doesn’t believe the city is legally bound to host another meeting.
But, the city will probably host another one anyway.
City Administrator Ed Barrett said Friday that he’ll urge the City Council to schedule another public hearing on the merger, most likely to appear on the Oct. 17 agenda.
“Just in case there is any doubt,” he said.
The lack of councilors, and mayor, on Thursday did not go unnoticed by those in the audience. A few residents and those involved in the anti-merger campaign expressed disappointment.
“This is probably going to be the most important issue that the people of Lewiston will ever vote on,” said Ron Potvin, a mayoral candidate and vice chairman of the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation.
In attendance Thursday night were Councilors Shane Bouchard, Kristen Cloutier and Michael Lachance. Absent were Councilors Jim Lysen, Tim Lajoie, Isobel Golden, Joline Landry-Beam, and Mayor Bob Macdonald.
Cloutier said Friday that she believed the city knew ahead of time that two councilors were unable to make it.
“I can’t speak to why the other two weren’t there, as I haven’t had a chance to check in with them,” she said in an email.
Overall, Cloutier said she was disappointed with the turnout for the hearing. At several points during the meeting, she urged residents to comment and allowed others to speak more than once.
“I was hoping to hear from more residents, rather than the usual suspects,” she said, referring to members of both the pro-merger campaign, OneLA, and anti-merger COLAC.
Calls to Mayor Macdonald were not immediately returned Friday.
When Auburn hosted its public hearing on July 31, all seven councilors and Mayor Jonathan LaBonte were present.
Barrett said that when he and City Clerk Kathy Montejo saw the council turnout, they planned to discuss the issue with Eisenstein.
According to state statute on joint charter commissions, each municipality must hold a public hearing on the consolidation agreement.
However, Eisenstein told the Sun Journal that the statute makes no mention of needing a quorum of municipal officers to make the hearing valid. He also said the Lewiston City Charter states that the only time a quorum is necessary is for a council vote, and no votes were taken Thursday.
Barrett said he’s hoping a second hearing in October will avoid the potential for legal questions surrounding the charter commission and consolidation agreement requirements.
According to the statue, “The public hearing may be held on more than one day, provided that it adjourns permanently at least 10 days before the election.”
COLAC Chairman Jim Howaniec, a Lewiston attorney, guessed Friday that the meeting did not meet the requirements of a public hearing.
But, he said, “I hope we can put technicalities aside and move this issue forward to a final resolution.”
Still to come:
• L-A merger debate hosted by the Sun Journal, 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25, at the Auburn Public Library.
• The Sun Journal is still seeking questions from the public to be asked during the debate in Auburn. Send questions to Executive Editor Judy Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• A vote on the merger will take place in both cities on Nov. 7.