Ed Barrett’s last day as Lewiston’s city administrator is Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — When Ed Barrett came to Lewiston, he inherited a city amid a recession. The first budget he oversaw, in 2010, resulted in some 20 layoffs. Now, a decade later, he’s worried that his retirement is coming at a similarly fraught moment.

However, the bulk of Barrett’s tenure as city administrator has been marked by steady growth and redevelopment, and before the pandemic brought uncertainty, he saw a city poised for success as he stepped away.

Barrett, 72, announced his retirement in February, with the City Council voting in April to approve Deputy City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil as his successor.

On Tuesday, he’ll conclude a career that spanned 45 years in municipal government. Barrett came to Lewiston after serving more than 20 years as city manager in Bangor. Prior to that, he was an assistant city manager in Wichita Falls, Texas, and he began his career in the budget office in Tucson, Arizona.

His co-workers said Monday that his level-headed presence and experience made their jobs easier.

“Ed’s calm and steady leadership guided the city through some challenging times over the past 10 years and I am proud of the work we accomplished in our short time together,” D’Auteuil said Monday. “He will be missed and I look forward to watching Ed transition towards a much-deserved retirement.”

Barrett, who plans to do more camping and canoeing, said Monday that he’s most proud of the significant long-term planning that was conducted under his watch, which he believes sets the city up for at least the next decade.

He’s referring to the Riverfront Island Master Plan, the Legacy Lewiston Comprehensive Plan and the Choice Neighborhood Plan, all of which will drive the work of city staff to tackle issues such as riverfront redevelopment, and bring new investment into one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods.

The riverfront plan also includes the city’s goal of acquiring the canal system, which was accomplished in 2018. Now the city is beginning work to clean up the canals to use as an economic development driver. But, Barrett said, that effort will take time and investment.

Last month, the council approved a public art project that will be installed at the foot of a small waterfall in the canal between Bates Mill No. 5 and Baxter Brewing.

He said he’s also proud of the significant amount of “redevelopment and rebirth” activity at the Bates Mill complex and along downtown Lisbon Street in the past 10 years, particularly with historic buildings, though he was quick to say those efforts began before his time.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, provided a list Monday of the most significant business investment in Lewiston over the past decade. At the Bates Mill complex alone, they include the $9 million creation of The Lofts at Bates Mill, the $3.5 million relocation and expansion of Grand Rounds in Mill No. 1, the new Pub at Baxter, and the $2.5 million relocation of Northeast Bank into Mill No. 1 that’s occurring now.

Jeffers also pointed to significant investment in housing, at area hospitals, and businesses such as Geiger, Rinck Advertising, Modula and Compounding Solutions.

Barrett also oversaw a period where Lewiston Code Enforcement took down an unprecedented number of condemned buildings in the downtown.

But, despite signs of growth, it’s clear Barrett is concerned for the potential long-term toll of COVID-19.

In the year he was hired, the budget in Lewiston was dependent on fund balance and one-time revenues that essentially disappeared due to the recession. That left the city scrambling to recover over the next few budget cycles.

The impact on city staff within those first few years, which included more layoffs in year three, has stuck with him.

“In my career, that’s probably the most difficult budget I’ve ever had to do,” he said, referring to the 2010 layoffs. “It wasn’t a whole lot of fun. And as I get ready to retire, I feel like I’m leaving Denis with the same problem.”

Earlier this month, the City Council approved a budget for next year that cut six vacant positions due to projected revenue losses due to COVID-19.

He said this time, the “extreme level of uncertainty” turned long-term planning into a guessing game.

Ed Barrett’s last day as Lewiston’s City Administrator is Tuesday, June 30. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“No one really knows how long this is going to last and what the impacts are going to be,” he said.

In his final budget message to city officials, Barrett said he’s hoping “our dire projections will prove unfounded,” and that the state and federal government will provide local communities with relief.

“It is, after all, local government that plows the roads, paves the streets, responds to emergencies, and works every day to enhance and improve the lives of our residents,” he said.

Mayor Mark Cayer, who served as a city councilor and School Committee member prior to his election as mayor, began his work in local politics at about the same time Barrett was hired.

“I’ve said often that Ed was hired at a time in our history when we needed someone exactly like Ed,” he said Monday. “(He) quickly realized that we needed to get our finances in order. At the time, our community was overburdened in debt that was not sustainable, and Ed brought with him a voice of reason with a pragmatic approach to addressing debt and how we conducted business. As council president, I, along with the council, worked with Ed to find ways to reduce our debt while also understanding a need to invest in our community. I believe because of Ed we were successful.”

Heather Hunter, the city’s finance director, said Monday that the pair got through a number of difficult budgets together. She said she’ll remember him as one of the few people “who could eat chocolate first thing in the morning, especially during budget season.”

“Ed is a very even-tempered leader with superior analytical and writing skills,” she said. “He is understanding and compassionate, and thoroughly enjoyed his years as a public servant,” she said.

Barrett said he’s hoping COVID-19 doesn’t take away the momentum the city had working to capitalize on a bursting housing market in southern Maine. He said Lewiston is “a reasonably-priced alternative” to municipalities in Cumberland County, and that the city has become more attractive to people who work here but haven’t become residents.

Barrett, a Lewiston resident, has been working mostly from home during the pandemic. He said he spent some time over the weekend cleaning out his office. Like a lot of his fellow city administrators, his desk was covered in stacks of papers.

“It’s nice to see the top of it now,” he said.

With COVID-19, it’s difficult to hold any kind of staff party, so Barrett said they’ll most likely plan some sort of dinner event a few months from now, hopefully as the pandemic is slowing.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo has worked with Barrett for his entire tenure in Lewiston, the fourth city administrator she’s worked with.

“Ed’s depth and breadth of knowledge of the details regarding city operations, finances and projects is extremely impressive,” she said. “He invests the time to study every issue and learn every angle of it.”

She said his years of experience assists both city staff and elected officials.

“He is a true gentleman whose guidance and knowledge will be sorely missed,” she said. “It is certainly difficult to replace 45 years worth of experience and we are lucky to be able to still access his advice and recommendations when needed.”

Former Mayor Kristen Cloutier, who oversaw a brief period of tumult with the resignation of former Mayor Shane Bouchard, called Barrett “a wonderful mentor.”

“He has handled even the most contentious of situations calmly, with grace and humility,” she said. “His dedication to the city of Lewiston has been remarkable and we are lucky to have had him serving this community for so many years.  I hope he is able to find some relaxation in retirement because he has certainly earned it.”

While Barrett said he’s looking forward to the time away, the pandemic has even put some personal travel plans on hold. He said due to the frantic times in city government, he’s offered to be available into July, if needed.

After Dale Doughty was promoted to deputy city administrator, the city will now have to hire a new Public Works director.

“I’m not going to turn everything off at midnight on Tuesday,” Barrett said.

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