In the past week, some officials in Lewiston have discussed altering the city’s Charter to allow for greater balance of power between city councilors and city administration. The present Charter, they claim, has vested too much authority with the management.

While its always proper to question how government works, there hasn’t been enough evidence presented to support altering the Charter, particularly since tilting authority toward administration was why the Charter was amended into its current form in 1979.

Thirty years ago, the city of Lewiston adopted professional management as its model of governing, an acknowledgment that operating municipalities of this size required more time and expertise than a part-time elected body could provide.

Of course, this development came at the expense of political power, particularly for the mayor, which was turned into the largely ceremonial position that it is today.

Now there are calls for reviewing the Charter, the most vocal questioner being the current mayor, Laurent Gilbert. He said, in an online chat on sunjournal.com recently, that “Oversight [of the administrator] is next to non-existent as you cannot verify his work. …You can only observe his performance at a department head meeting with his permission.”

If concern about the administrator’s job performance exists, the council should intercede. But, so far, despite proclamations about the Administrator, Jim Bennett, that have emanated from the council, very few, if any, facts have been presented. A Charter change has been floated only as an answer.

The question, though, remains unknown. Why does the City Charter need changing? What is going wrong with city management, if anything? Is there something happening the public deserves to know? Lewiston residents are done no favors by first being offered a conclusion, before being granted a premise.

We’re comfortable with the current arrangement – organizations with the duties, responsibilities and budgets of a city like Lewiston require professional, day-to-day management. Weak or non-existent management, for a government, is less than ideal. The county government is exhibit A for that.

Yet management that is either irresponsible, or unaccountable, is much worse. Changing this, though, doesn’t require amending the Charter. All it needs is the leadership of the city councilors, who are responsible for ensuring the city is being managed right. The administrator, after all, answers to them.

Discussing a Charter change could be interpreted as abdicating that responsibility, especially since evidence to support this conclusion is so lacking. If there are bad goings-on in the city, the council should clean them up. They are elected not only as the city’s chief policymakers, but also its watchdogs.

If the council is unable to fulfill this responsibility, then consider this: It is much easier to replace elected officials with ones who will than replace the system by which they all govern.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.