LEWISTON — Local reactions to City Administrator Jim Bennett’s firing were mixed Wednesday.

While views varied on whether the top official should have been ousted by the City Council on Tuesday night, all of those who commented on Wednesday to the Sun Journal said the news came as a surprise.

“I’m speechless,” said Andrew Harris, executive director at L/A Arts. Harris, who sat at the counter at Simones’ Famous Hot Dog Stand at lunchtime, said he had worked with Bennett to promote the arts in the city.

“I’m surprised how it came out of the blue — a bolt out of the blue,” Harris said, noting that he read the story in the local newspaper three times before he believed it.

Harris said he had a good working relationship with Bennett in advocating for arts funding.

“On a personal level, I’ve always found that Jim Bennett certainly understood the arts perspective” and its importance to the Twin Cities, Harris said.

“I’d heard people were unhappy with things generally, but I’m not quite sure how you go from not happy with things generally to this situation,” he said.

“I’m not too happy” about the City Council’s action, said Robert Macdonald at Tim Hortons. “I think they’ve done something they shouldn’t have done.”

He referred to councilors quoted in the Sun Journal as saying the city needs to move in a new direction. “What direction is that?” Macdonald questioned. “Down?”

Although Macdonald doesn’t consider himself a big fan of Bennett’s, he commended the former administrator for having done good things for the city.

“I think he got a raw deal,” Macdonald said.

“If they had cause to get rid of him, then let us know what the cause is,” he said. “There has to be a reason.”

Macdonald said the $100,000 the city must pay Bennett to buy out his contract would have been better spent repaving roads or other pressing city needs at a time when finances are at their tightest.

Macdonald’s city councilor was one of the five who voted to fire Bennett, he said.

“I’m not too happy with what she did,” he said, but stopped short of saying he would vote to replace her. For Macdonald, that will depend on whom she runs against.

“We do need some new blood,” Gene Tardif said as he was leaving a gathering over coffee with Macdonald and others. He said the council should have been more forthcoming about the reasons behind the firing.

“There’s something there that’s gone sour and we have the right to know,” he said.

Back at Simones’ lunch counter, Ronald Paradis said he didn’t see the firing coming. He wondered about the mysterious nature of the action.

“I’m not entirely aware of the situation and how it played out, but it seems a little bit clandestine, behind-closed-doors kind of stuff,” he said.

Harris said changing administrators in the midst of a historic recession may not be the best timing. “You batten the hatches down a bit and keep a steady course,” he said.
“Not unless they’re going to pull somebody out of their hat.”

That is, unless the City Council has somebody already waiting in the wings. He pointed to the lengthy hiring process undertaken by Auburn in hiring its new administrator a year ago.

“I’m speechless,” said Andrew Harris about the firing of Jim Bennett.

Gene Tardif speaks about the firing of Jim Bennett.

Robert Macdonald is less impressed with the job that Mayor Larry Gilbert is doing than the way Jim Bennett has ran the city.

Roland Paradis speaks about the firing on Jim Bennett.


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