LEWISTON – Three hours and 10 minutes of closed-door City Council negotiating Tuesday night was summed up in two words: no comment.

That’s all councilors had to say after emerging from their executive session Tuesday to discuss councilor roles and responsibilities.

“No comment,” Mayor Larry Gilbert said. “It was an executive session. That’s all. No comment.”

The meeting was called to settle disputes among councilors over what they should and shouldn’t do and how they should relate to city staff and to the public.

Specifically, councilors wanted to know whether Councilor Denis Theriault was within his rights when we attended a department head meeting last week without being invited by City Administrator Jim Bennett. After the meeting, Theriault said Bennett told him that Theriault should not be there.

Theriault also speculated Monday that he had enough councilor support to buy out the remaining two years of Bennett’s $110,000 annual contract. Other councilors declined to comment on that Monday.

But that wasn’t the point of Tuesday’s executive session.

Councilors convened in their main chambers at 6:30 p.m. before going in the back room to consult with city attorney Martin Eisenstein. Under Maine law, councilors can choose to keep those discussions out of the public eye.

But the council momentarily considered keeping their discussions public. Councilor Robert Reed said that since Tuesday’s discussions didn’t involve personnel matters and would center on city councilor roles, the discussions should be public.

“I don’t believe this meets the need of all this secrecy,” Reed said. “I’d rather see us stay public.”

Councilor Tom Peters said the discussions could veer into privileged matters, and he preferred to keep the meeting secret, as scheduled. Councilor Tina Bailey, noting that Tuesday’s meeting was not advertised as an open meeting or broadcast live on Great Falls TV, said they might as well go ahead with the secret meeting.

They voted 5-2 to go into executive session, with Reed and Theriault opposing.

“And there goes public transparency,” said Gilbert as the group left the main chambers.

Councilors emerged after about 90 minutes for a quick break, then went back behind closed doors.

“It’s been very educational so far,” Reed said at that time.

Councilors finished their back-room discussions at 9:50 p.m. and immediately adjourned.

“There’s nothing else to say,” Theriault said. “It’s time to go home.”

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