AUBURN — Mayor Jason Levesque asked Gov. Janet Mills early Tuesday to trust local leaders to decide how to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the day Mills announced a timeline for reopening Maine businesses and an extension of her “stay safe at home” order, Levesque sent a letter requesting she lift the order by May 4.

“I feel strongly that Auburn is at an emotional tipping point,” Levesque said in the letter. “As Mayor, like my peers around the state, I am strongly connected to my community. I can tell you that here in Auburn, the mood is anything but receptive to a long-term extension of the order.”

He asked that Mills allow municipalities to decide “what is right to both fight this pandemic and also minimize undue economic strain.”

“I look forward to the reopening of our great state,” he wrote. “Rest assured that Auburn will stand at the forefront of a great Maine resurgence.”

Mills’ updated order allows some businesses, such as barber shops, hair salons and pet groomers, to reopen Friday, with limitations.

During the Auburn City Council meeting Monday, several officials, including Levesque, said they were looking forward to “a new normal,” where Auburn residents could start seeing more businesses open in response to low case numbers in Androscoggin County.

As of Monday, there were 43 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Androscoggin County, 17 of which are considered active. There have been two deaths.

“Hopefully by (May 4), things will be in our favor, because. boy oh boy, sitting around twiddling your thumbs trying to come up with things to do is not easy. We’ve been at it a long time,” said Councilor Leroy Walker. “It’s time to get out of it and go back to work.”

Assistant City Manager Phil Crowell said Monday the city will begin transitioning “certain staff members” back into Auburn Hall on May 4. He said the city will use a screening process prior to allowing staff members back into the building.

Levesque said he would also like the City Council to conduct an in-person meeting next week, which would be its first in more than a month. He said there are signs that more businesses are reopening, including a decision that allowed Hobby Lobby to reopen Monday and more restaurants turning to takeout services.

There was some pushback, however, from councilors who are uncertain about being too aggressive with reopening the city. Councilor Holly Lasagna argued it may be premature to being conducting City Council meetings in person rather than remotely.

Lasagna also sent an email to fellow councilors in response to Levesque’s letter Tuesday, stating she took “strong exception to you writing this letter to Gov. Mills without proper consultation with the council.”

“It is inappropriate to state that it represents the desires of the City Council,” Lasagna wrote. “It is actually counter to my desires as both a councilor and a community member. I was not consulted on this nor told that you were intending to send this letter.”

Councilor Katie Boss urged her fellow councilors Monday to remember what public health experts have been saying about reopening too soon.

“The second wave is always worse when you lift restrictions,” she said, “so let’s not forget what history has taught us and what the field of epidemiology provides us in this conversation.”

In his letter Tuesday, Levesque urged Mills to inform him and other mayors prior to the decision “so that together with city staff, we can properly and efficiently prepare our response.”

Levesque also thanked Mills for her leadership “during this time of crisis,” stating the daily briefings have helped the public “understand the threat and the data.”

“You have built a base of knowledge that I and my fellow municipal leaders have carefully applied to our unique communities,” he said.

“This has helped us protect our residents and has, hopefully, minimized the economic damage to Auburn businesses. Like all of Maine, Auburn is a resilient city filled with strong, determined people.”

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