LISBON — J. Michael Huston, a 30-year resident of the town and former selectman, was sworn in Tuesday night as interim town manager.

The Town Council unanimously voted to appoint Huston in public session after a 25-minute executive session that began at 7 p.m.

Huston will take over for Stephen Eldridge, whose contract with the town ended on Monday. Councilors voted unanimously Friday at a special meeting not to renew his contract.

In a brief introduction at the request of Planning Board Chairman Don Fellows, Huston said he has lived in Lisbon since 1984 and served as the moderator at town meetings for 20 years. He was also a selectman for two years, served on the charter commission and was the town manager of Hallowell.

For the past three years, he has been managing a hotel he owns in Boothbay.

“I think that this is a job I can do,” he said.

Referring to the eventual hiring of a new town manager, Huston said, “I have no idea, frankly, whether I will apply for the position. Lisa has made it clear that’s an option I have,” he said, referring to council Chairwoman Lisa Ward.

“Mr. Huston was recommended to us by several local residents, and professional resources also gave him good recommendations,” Ward said. “He has worked as an attorney and as interim town manager in other towns. I think we’ve made a solid choice.”

News that the council had not renewed Eldridge’s contract drew mixed reactions from department heads and other town employees, Ward said. She and council Vice Chairman Dillon Pesce spent most of Monday meeting with people at the Town Office.

“This was a very difficult announcement to make,” Ward said. “I think I talked to every single person who works in this building. This was a very hard day, but everyone was working together, everyone was up to the task. I saw so much strength and purpose in the staff here, it gave me a great feeling.”

“I was at the Town Office from 7:30 Monday morning until 5:02, meeting with people,” Pesce said. “We are very fortunate to have such a professional staff. They went about their business as they would on any other day.”

Ward thanked residents “who reached out to the council to offer advice and input during the transition.

“This was extremely valuable. We didn’t have to figure out everything for ourselves. We couldn’t have done it without input from the general public,” she said.

Ward also announced that under the council’s new working rules, members of the audience can have input on any subject, not just items on the agenda.

Pesce praised the rules change, saying, “I’m really happy to see how our new rules are working. We want better communication between citizens and the council. I urge any citizen to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Earlier in the meeting, Roger Cote asked about a rumor that he “heard on the street that we’re in serious trouble with how much sand we’ve used. Is this going to be an issue?” he asked.

Council member Roger Bickford said he had looked into this, and “as of right now, everything is fine.”

Bickford commended the efforts of the public works employees who have had to struggle to keep roads passable during a series of snowstorms and ice storms.

“What we’ve seen in the last three or four weeks I haven’t seen in a very long, long time. I want to give them credit for doing a great job,” Bickford said.

Council member Gregg Garrison praised the efforts of water department employees who had to deal with clogged drains during the storms.

The council heard a brief presentation from William Bauer, chairman of the Water Commission, regarding a bill the commissioners have filed with the state Legislature. Bauer said he plans to testify in support of the bill before a legislative committee on Wednesday.

The bill would change the water department from a quasi-public entity to a water district.

Ward asked if this is the same bill the town has filed.

Bauer said the town’s bill, if passed, would bring the water department under the town’s control.

“We didn’t feel this was appropriate,” Bauer said.

“Who put this legislation together?” Ward asked, referring to the water commissioner’s bill.

“We hired legal counsel to do it through the Maine Rural Water Association,” Bauer said. In what he called a “rough analysis,” Bauer said the great majority of the 154 water companies in the state are privately owned.

Ward thanked Bauer for updating the council.


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