LEWISTON — The fate of public education in the Twin Cities might be one of the biggest issues of a combined Lewiston-Auburn charter, candidates for a new Charter Commission agreed Tuesday.

“We have too many situations today where business owners or professionals are choosing to live somewhere else because they don’t see the school systems here are adequate for their kids,” Lewiston candidate Eugene Geiger said. “In the end, we’d better end up with a better system and a better situation.”

Candidates for the six seats on a joint Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission agreed that both cities have much of their identity tied up in their high schools, Lewiston and Edward Little.

Lewiston candidate Chantel Pettengill said she imagined the two schools would be preserved.

“We don’t have a building big enough in Lewiston or Auburn to house all the students,” she said. “We’ll have to have two separate high schools, most likely two middle schools and our neighborhood elementary schools.”

Auburn candidate John Spruill said the need to replace Edward Little High School would be an issue.

“Where is that going to go?” he said. “I think this committee will have to make that decision.”

All agreed that the fate of Twin Cities’ schools, and the entire Charter Commission process, must be wide open to the public.

“We need to be inclusive, as open as possible and to have the public come to speak to us,” Lewiston candidate Richard Grandmaison said. “We also need to go out to them, somehow, at different venues. What those are I can’t tell you at this point, but the commission has to decide this thing.”

More than 60 people attended the candidates forum, sponsored by the Sun Journal, the Lewiston Public Library and the Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area.

Only one candidate, Auburn’s Michael Beaulieu, was unable to attend, citing work obligations. The remaining five Auburn candidates and all six Lewiston candidates did attend and about 60 residents came to listen.

Twin Cities voters go to the polls in two weeks to select six people to sit on a Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission, to write a plan for combining the two cities and to draft a charter for the new municipality.

Auburn voters will select three commissioners from their six candidates: Alfreda Fournier, Charles Morrison, Holly Lasagna,Verne Paradie Jr., Spruill and Beaulieu

Lewiston voters will select their three from among six candidates: Charles A. Soule, David Chittim, Lucien B. Gosselin, Pettengill, Geiger and Grandmaison.

Once seated, the commission can take as long it needs to draft the founding documents for the combined cities. When the commissioners are done, voters in both cities must approve that charter before it becomes law.

Candidates also weighed in on the matter of clout, whether a combined Lewiston-Auburn would be a force to be reckoned with in the state of Maine, politically and economically.

Lewiston candidate Soule, who said he did not recommend combining the cities, said he doubted it would.

“I think the rest of the state will say, ‘Who cares what Lewiston-Auburn does?'” Soule said. “It’s not going to affect their budgets.”

Lewiston candidate Gosselin, the outgoing president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, said he didn’t think clout would grow from just having a bigger city.

“Clout by itself is meaningless, unless it’s earned,” Gosselin said. “You’ve got to earn clout and you do that by being more efficient, more effective and more economical. It’s really about how we choose to do things and move forward.”

Auburn candidate Morrison, president of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce, said just discussing the idea puts the Twin Cities on a bigger stage.

“There are doggone few communities in the entire nation who have dared to say, ‘We will look at consolidation and formally put it on the table,'” Morrison said. “Most walk away from it because it’s too much of a political hot potato.”

Auburn candidate Paradie said a well-thought-out charter document would provide better clout for Lewiston-Auburn, among other things.

“I would view my job as a commissioner to put together the best possible charter we can come up with as a group to give Lewiston-Auburn the best of all opportunities, which would include clout in Augusta,” Paradie said.

Auburn candidate Lasagna said it was an important factor to consider.

“It’s important that we look at ourselves as not just one community, but really representing the very best of Maine,” she said. “I think that together, we do that — from our work ethic, our cultural history — and that will make us a very important part of the state of Maine.”

Auburn candidate Fournier said she would treat previous studies of Lewiston-Auburn governmental cooperation and shared-service opportunities as important background.

“I would not like to see it wasted,” Fournier said. “This commission may find other factors to explore, but I think it makes a lot of sense for us to look at what has been explored, what the recommendations were, where savings were possible and how it applies now.”

Lewiston candidate Chittim agreed that they had to be studied and understood.

“It would almost be mandatory homework for anybody elected to this commission to review all those past studies and determine for him or herself if those conclusions are still valid today,” Chittim said. “But I also think it’s important that this commission be comprised of differing viewpoints. Let’s get some civil discourse, some differing opinions, and use the past studies as a foundation.”

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Due to technical difficulties, the video came in two parts. The first video starts at 5:21.

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Lewiston

Voters will select three candidates

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