LEWISTON — An evening of City Council harmony ended with Council President Tom Peters vowing to find a legal way for councilors to circumvent Mayor Larry Gilbert on Thursday.

Councilors were discussing the process for hiring a new city administrator and considering how people should be named to a citizen search committee. They agreed to a 13-member format, including one person selected by each councilor and the mayor.

But Gilbert said he interprets the City Charter differently.
Councilors are free to decide the format for the committee, but he’s the
only one allowed to put people on it.

Gilbert said he might name councilors’ choices to the committee. But he might not.

“Council, should we do this, figure out a way to get around the mayor?” Peters said. “Is that what we have to do?”

“You don’t mean get around the mayor,” Gilbert said. “You want to get around the charter.” 

“No, Larry, I mean around you,” Peters said. “You’re being obstructionist.”

“No, I’m not,” Gilbert said. 

“Yes, you are,” Peters said.

Councilors had called the special meeting
to settle their differences and to decide how to find a replacement for
fired City Administrator Jim Bennett. As of Thursday, the city had received 26
resumes from potential replacements — 12 from Maine and 14 from
out of state. Candidates run the gamut from high school graduates to
those with law degrees.

Councilors had agreed to create a rating system to select the best
resumes and had decided to ask the candidates if they would agree to let
the entire process be open to the public.

“I don’t see the harm in at least asking,” Councilor Robert Reed
said. “I suspect that most will say no and will want to back out of the
process if make their names public now. But, in the interest of
transparency, we should at least ask them.”

Councilors also discussed who should be named to a citizens search committee. That committee would be asked to meet at least seven times over the next month, reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates. The group would ultimately recommend the best candidates to the council, which would decide who to hire.

Councilors finally decided to create a committee of 13. The Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council and the Lewiston School superintendent would all name one person to the committee. Each councilor and Mayor Gilbert would get to name one person.

Gilbert said he had a legal opinion from city attorney Martin
Eisenstein that appointing the committee was the mayor’s right.

When a citizen asked Gilbert if he would agree to name the councilors’ preferences to the committee, Gilbert said he would not.

“I will take their opinions into consideration, but the decision is mine, legally, and according to the charter,” he said. “They might want someone on the committee I feel is completely wrong, and that’s why the charter is set up the way it is.”

Councilors Peters and Reed disagreed.

“I do not see how one person making this decision makes this a transparent process,” Reed said. “I think, Mayor, you are a fool if you think you’re making the decision on this list is a good idea at this time. I think it will backfire big-time and I don’t think the citizens will stand for it.” 

Councilor Peters said he would look for a way to legally have councilors’ choices put on the board. Councilors are scheduled to meet again on this matter on Sept. 3 to finalize the committee members. They hope to meet with the final committee on Sept. 10.

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