Beth Mathews speaks Tuesday during the Lewiston City Council meeting in favor of keeping restaurant inspections local as opposed to being done by the state. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council will reconsider proposals to eliminate both the local restaurant inspection program and the sanitarian position held by Louis Lachance after receiving considerable public scrutiny Tuesday.

Following a lengthy public comment session, the council voted unanimously to postpone the item until March 19, and did not take up the issue of eliminating Lachance’s position.

The city’s proposal to end its local health inspection program came after the city placed Code Enforcement Director Dave Hediger on administrative leave last week, a decision that has been tied to the recent temporary closure of DaVinci’s Eatery.

Lewiston City Councilor David Chittim speaks during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston is one of only three municipalities in the state that conduct inspections at a local level. If ended, the state health inspection program would be tasked with local food service inspections. Many in attendance Tuesday argued that the local program is fair and that deferring to the state would be a step backward for service.

Councilor Tim Gallant made a motion to table the items until a later date because he said the council needed further public comment, discussions on the issue with local vendors, and more info from the state’s inspection program. Prior to the council’s vote, a public comment session was conducted.

Adam Jones, president of the Maine Service Employees Association union that includes code enforcement staff, said that further “transparency is going to bring certain things to light through this process.” He also said the union was likely to submit no confidence votes for both Mayor Carl Sheline and City Administrator Heather Hunter.


Beth Matthews, who has worked for Lachance, said the city “should be celebrating his skill set.”

“He was hired to enforce healthy standards, not to create a disparity between restaurants based on popularity,” she said. “Lewiston doesn’t owe businesses lenient codes to be business friendly.”

Former councilor Bob McCarthy said the optics of the proposal are “terrible.”

“One week after a restaurant complains, you’re axing the head of the department, and then two weeks later it’s the guy who did the inspection,” he said.

He added that over the last two years, he heard “zero complaints” about either Hediger or Lachance.

DaVinci’s Eatery reopened Jan. 15 after a nine-day closure caused by a cockroach issue that was first reported to the state. Following an inspection, Lachance issued an ultimatum to close voluntarily or be forcibly shut down by the city. DaVinci’s co-owner Craig Tribuno has since questioned the city’s approach, stating the closure cost the restaurant roughly $80,000.


Bob Tibbets told councilors that ending local inspections is a poor decision, because restaurants will not get the same level of service from the state.

Lucky Cat Coffee food truck owner Lisa Harvey speaks Tuesday during the Lewiston City Council meeting in favor of keeping restaurant inspections local as opposed to being done by the state. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lisa Harvey, who operates a food truck, said she’s concerned with having to rely on the state for inspections, because “there are a lot of processes that get delayed.”

Billie Jayne Cook, the owner of the Agora Grand, agreed, adding that she values her relationship with Lachance.

Another food truck owner said, “Lachance is tough, but he’s tough for the right reasons.”

If the council ultimately decides to eliminate the sanitarian position in March, it doesn’t necessarily mean Lachance will leave the department. According to the bargaining agreement, an employee with seniority can “bump” into another job in the event of a layoff or reduction in workforce size.

During an earlier public comment period, several people either questioned or criticized the city’s decision to move on from Hediger. The comments followed reaction last week from city code enforcement staff, who spoke out on social media following the announcement of the city’s decision.


Kathy McDonald said Hediger has always been an “extremely helpful” and “dedicated employee,” who deserves “more than an escort out of the building.” She added that the decision was “made in haste and should be rescinded.”

Jim Lysen, a former councilor and Lewiston planning director for 15 years, questioned the “suddenness and lack of clarity” on the decision. He said “this may be the best decision, but we need the facts behind it,” and that it’s clear “there’s a narrative behind it, but that’s what the public needs to know.”

The city has not provided any other information on the decision to move on from Hediger, citing it as a personnel issue.

Gil Arsenault, the former longtime director of the department, sent a lengthy letter to city officials late last week in response to the proposal to eliminate the local inspection program.

Arsenault, echoing recent comments from code enforcement staff, said if Lachance had been unable to respond to the DaVinci’s complaint, staff from the state program would have done the inspection, and also required the restaurant to close.

He said Lewiston conducted health inspections locally long before he was employed by the city, and the sanitarian position is important beyond just inspections.


He argues that because the city just recently re-upped its contract with the state in November, “the proposed elimination of the health inspection program is clearly a result of political pressure on certain city officials, and that this originated from the infestation at DaVinci’s.”

Arsenault also spoke highly of Hediger, who Arsenault hired, stating, “His customer service has always been exemplary.”

“His understanding of complex environmental regulations, many of which are state and federal, makes him an invaluable resource not only to developers and the business community but also to the planning board and city council,” he said.

He added, “At the very least, Mr. Hediger is owed a public apology and his contract reinstated.”

A large crowd fills the chamber Tuesday at the Lewiston City Council meeting. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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