Municipal consolidation and collaboration are easy when it comes to arborists or landscapers, or non-sentient endeavors like telephone systems or building codes. Degrees of difficulty rise, however, when discussions turn toward the sensitive topic of administration, despite the great potential for cost-savings that lies within this area.

Cooperative efforts between Lewiston and Auburn have reached the point, as demonstrated during a recent joint city council meeting, where officials and citizens want money on the table – how many taxpayer dollars can be saved, and when – or perhaps their support for cooperative services will wane.

Except their support, at times, rings hollow. Reluctance to discuss collaborating the cities’ upper management is puzzling, for example, as taxpayers will likely never see decreasing bills if efficiencies are allowed only on the fuzzy edges of municipal services, instead of the center.

Auburn, for example, is paying a professional recruitment firm from Chicago more than $20,000 to evaluate qualifications of its next city manager, after Mayor John Jenkins told the citizens collaboration committee that talk of a co-manager with Lewiston is “causing a lot of anxiety” among residents.

“You’re picking a fight that need not be picked,” Jenkins said. Though the mayor’s assessment of concern is correct – the idea of co-managers is controversial – dissuading conversation about shared management puts unneeded blinders on the collaboration effort.

Why not discuss the idea? It could save residents the cost of an out-of-state headhunter, to start.

Everything must be considered for savings, especially where inefficiencies can languish. Debating co-management would also engage residents about their government’s needs – it already has Auburn – which can help officials understand what’s practically achievable, and politically palatable, from collaboration and consolidation.

It would be the top-down approach collaboration needs, as well. If co-management is eliminated as an option, architects of cooperative Lewiston-Auburn government can turn to other areas. If deemed worthwhile, though, fusing this position instantly becomes the symbol of cooperation, and the model to follow.

First, it must be discussed. Strong opposition to this idea – and debate about the merits of cooperation foreshadows a lack of fortitude by councilors in both cities.

This is the weight that sunk L/A Together, the failure which inspired the current Citizens Commission on Lewiston/Auburn Cooperation and whose footprints it’s now plodding.

It’s disingenuous to criticize collaboration for failing to prove its economic savings, when an engine for real efficiency – sharing upper-level administration – is off-limits for discussion, and the commission tasked with recommending other avenues is months away from completing its work.

Cooperation is easy when the tough questions are avoided, and conclusions are made prematurely.

This critical effort deserves better.

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