LEWISTON — After a 40-year-career, Denis Jean, the city’s first, and so far only, human resources director retires Thursday.

And he’s recommended the city not replace him.

It’s been one of his jobs to keenly eye every new vacancy. His isn’t any different.

“I said, ‘Try it.’ When someone leaves, it’s an opportunity,” Jean said.

He’s also looking at his own opportunities. Jean may seize retirement as a chance to get back into the classroom as a substitute teacher. Next week, he said, he’ll really start thinking about what’s next.

Jean’s first job with the city was as a Kennedy Park lifeguard in 1966. He spent the next three summers as a city construction inspector between teaching positions at St. Dominic High School.

The former St. Dom’s student said, “I miss teaching, I truly enjoy teaching.” But regular warnings that the school might close created too much uncertainty. In 1971, he was hired as an understudy for the city’s Public Works director.

In 1973, he moved into the human resources job.

Most of the city’s 346 full-time employees are covered by six union contracts. Collective bargaining takes up 60 to 65 percent of his time, Jean said.

“This is tough work. It’s not easy facing people all day long. (When contract negotiations start,) it’s ‘No, no,’ then eventually you come to an agreement,” he said.

Some of the job’s highs and lows have been negotiations that lasted more than a year before a breakthrough, he said. “We’ve been at stalemates that lasted many, many months.”

The rest of his time has been spent on issues such as pay steps, grievances, job interviews and labor laws.

“Almost everyday there is a new twist,” Jean said. “There’s a lot more study of each position that comes up. The first 20 years, there wasn’t a thought: A position came up, you filled it.”

City staff threw Jean, who is Lewiston born and raised, a retirement party on his 65th birthday Dec. 2. His 98-year-old mother, Alice, came out for the party.

His duties will be officially split between Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau and Jean’s longtime assistant, Irene Dostie. He’ll miss colleagues the most.

“I’m as ready as I can be,” Jean said. “I just don’t know what it’s going to feel like Monday morning at 8 o’clock.”

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