Lewiston’s charter grants certain powers to the elected mayor and some to the council.
As the United States Constitution is the ultimate “law of the land” (unless changed by the process contained therein), the charter of the city of Lewiston is the local equivalent for our city. The charter grants certain powers to the elected mayor and members of the city council. It is to be honored, respected and obeyed, as it is the city government of the people, for the people and by the people.
When I testified at the city council’s meeting on Dec. 19, I wanted to impress upon the council the importance of safeguarding the provisions of the charter.
The first agenda item that night was the “Appointment of City Council President as Interim Mayor” as recommended by the city attorney. Mayor Lionel Guay resigned Dec. 1, and the city council called for a special election to be held on Feb. 27 to elect a mayor to fill the remainder of Guay’s unexpired term.
Contrary to the city attorney’s faulty opinion, only those citizens eligible to vote can grant such power through the charter. The charter – the city’s “Constitution” – maintains that a mayor is elected by the people, be that for the remainder of a term or for a full term. The council does not possess such power. That power is retained by the people.
The charter states in Section 2.07 (b): “If a vacancy in the office (of Mayor) occurs nine months or more prior to the next regular municipal election, the vacancy shall be filled by a special election for the unexpired term. Such election shall be called and held and nominations made as in other elections.”
Accordingly, section 2.07 (c) states: “If a vacancy in the office (of Mayor) occurs less than nine months prior to the next regular municipal election, the president of the council shall serve the remainder of the unexpired term as the mayor of the city with all the powers, privileges and authority of the mayor. In such event, the vacancy in the city council caused by the president of the council becoming the mayor shall not be filled.”
The drafters of the charter intended for the mayor to be elected by a special election, if the temporary vacancy in the office occurred over nine months from the next regular election. They also intended for the council president to serve as mayor of the city if the temporary vacancy occurred with less than nine months from the next municipal election. Also, if that occurred, the councilor’s seat shall not be filled.
Section 2.04 provides that “The council shall elect for a two-year term, from among its members, a president who shall act as mayor during the temporary absence or temporary disability of the mayor, but he shall have no appointive powers. When the president of the council acts as presiding officer in the temporary absence of the mayor, he shall be entitled to vote as a councilor.”
In effect, the council has been operating under the provisions of Section 2.04 since Dec. 1, when Mayor Guay resigned. The exception now is that it is attempting to grant powers to the council president that clearly violate Section 2.04 which states “.but he shall have no appointive powers.”
Although some would argue that leaving the mayorship vacant paralyzes the city because there is no one to fill vacancies on city boards, I totally disagree. The city is in no way harmed by waiting until a special election is held to have a mayor who is authorized to make all appointments, and carry out the other duties prescribed by the charter. The council president may do all of this except make appointments during the temporary period awaiting an election.
I am not an attorney, but I spent 33 years in law enforcement interpreting laws. I have consulted government and private lawyers; they have reviewed my opinion and concur fully with my assessment.
City councilors decided voters could wait until Feb. 27 to elect a new mayor. So, why now does the council feel a sense of “urgency” when it comes to making appointments to boards and commissions? The council can’t have it both ways. All city officials, whether elected or hired are compelled to follow the charter, Lewiston’s “Constitution.”
I will say again what I said at the council meeting: Appointments must wait until the new mayor takes office.
Laurent F. Gilbert, of Lewiston, is a former city police chief and candidate for mayor of Lewiston.