To recap: Lewiston City Councilor Denis Theriault says he’s dissatisfied with City Administrator Jim Bennett’s job performance and that he has secured the council votes to effect Bennett’s ouster. (A claim so far unproven.)

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the city held a remedial “City Councilor 101” session to review, for everyone, the responsibilities of a city councilor. This came on the heels of Theriault’s recent unannounced visit to a weekly city staff meeting, to which Bennett objected. Lips were tight after the 3.5-hour session. There’s a chance the air was cleared. There’s a chance we’re just getting started.

There’s obviously personality conflicts at work here. This is unsurprising; neither Bennett nor Theriault are shrinking violets. Yet in this battle of wills, there is a burden of proof. Is the city poorly managed? Theriault thinks so and says so. Why?

Theriault has said Bennett is dividing the council. Yet blaming the administrator for council’s lack of harmony seems somewhat convenient; this council has never been a merry bunch, after all. One could say divided is their natural state. So again, Theriault should buttress his claim of Bennett interference with some facts.

Otherwise, it could be he’s masking council failings by designating a scapegoat, as re-election nears.

This city doesn’t have time for political witch hunts. There are bigger issues to tackle: omnipresent concerns about downtown development and blight, the infusion of stimulus funds for projects, a massive mill building to tear down, a budget to balance, etc.

And there will always be a segment of the Lewiston community that, regardless what Bennett does as administrator, is convinced he should go. This seems a lot drawn by city managers everywhere; the position is often thankless. Yet such narrow, one-sided perceptions of performance should not dictate their employment. Neither from the public, nor from one councilor.

Where has Bennett faulted? The city has aggressively pursued cost-saving efforts and has avoided the tight budgets and deep cuts necessitated in other cities during this economic downturn. It earned that All-American City designation. There have been missteps – Heritage Initiative, Casella – but this city administration has also shown it learns from its mistakes.

The Heritage was a catastrophe of public relations. In the strategic planning now taking place for Lewiston, the city – under Bennett’s stewardship – took great strides to ensure every opinion, from every neighborhood, was heard. Lesson heeded.

After the debacle of the Heritage – as effectively detailed in a recent documentary by the Visible Community, which emerged as a force in that debate – the city’s strategic planning was a refreshing change.

Now, we’re not privy to all the information a city councilor has. Nor is the public. Theriault is, though, and thinks the administrator is not doing his job. He could do his constituents – and the city – a service by sharing the factual foundation of his reasoning.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s not the administrator that is the problem.


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