LEWISTON – Councilors need to defer to city administration when it comes to managing and supervising city staff, according to an opinion from the city attorney released Friday afternoon.

The three-page opinion, written by city attorney Martin Eisenstein and dated May 14, lists council responsibilities and rights concerning their jobs as elected officials, specifically relating to their authority.

According to Eisenstein’s opinion, the charter “provides that the mayor and members of the council shall deal with the administrative service solely through the administrator” and that neither councilors nor the mayor can give orders to “subordinates of the administrator.”

Councilors met in executive session Tuesday to discuss their roles and responsibilities as elected officials. The meeting came in the wake of Councilor Denis Theriault’s attending a staff meeting uninvited and without warning.

City Administrator Jim Bennett approached Theriault after the meeting and said it was inappropriate and intimidating for Theriault to be there. Theriault has said he supports buying out the remaining two years of Bennett’s $110,000 employment contract.

Theriault declined to comment on the opinion.

“I know it’s out there for public digestion,” he said. “I’ve read it, and I have nothing to say right now.”

Bennett said he feels that it’s time to move on.

“I’m not interested in making a point with this,” he said. “I’m not in open competition with the council or any individual members. My job is to carry forward their policies, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

According to Eisenstein’s opinion, councilors can vote to have one of their own attend city staff and department head meetings with the purpose of evaluating the city administrator’s performance. They are obligated to refrain from interfering, however.

Otherwise, “. . . the mayor and individual councilors do not have a legal right to attend administrative department head meetings in the absence of specific authority from the city council for a proper purpose.”

The opinion also says that councilors’ authority comes from acting as a group, not as individuals. Single councilors, other than the mayor or council president, have the authority to act only by ordinance, order or resolve.

The opinion also says that councilors can excuse the city administrator from attending some meetings. Eisenstein outlined the rules for naming an acting city administrator when that job is vacant or the administrator is temporarily absent or disabled. He recommended councilors adopt a policy for temporary absences by the city administrator.


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