The Vision Thing

Posted Nov. 01, 2009, at 6:28 p.m.

As he prepared to run for president in 1987, then Vice-President George H.W. Bush struggled to find the issues to propel him into the White House. Time magazine reported at the time that Mr. Bush asked a friend to help him identify some issues. Time wrote: “Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. ‘Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, ‘the vision thing.’” Arguably, Mr. Bush’s lack of vision killed his bid for re-election in 1992.

Bangor city councilors are suggesting “the vision thing” led them to negotiate an early departure for longtime City Manager Ed Barrett. By all accounts, Mr. Barrett has served the city well in his 22 years at the helm. From the outside looking in, it seems the manager is well-versed in municipal is-sues, meticulous and focused in managing the services on which residents rely and careful and prudent with finances. In short, he appears to be a consummate professional, whose nearly 23 years on the job speak to his competence and integrity, and buck the trends of municipal government where every decision alienates a new constituency and typically leads to managers being shown the door after five years.

Yet councilors clearly have the right — and responsibility — to move toward a new management style and philosophy if they conclude Mr. Barrett is not suited to help them achieve their goals and reach their vision for the city.

One hopes this decision was not made impulsively or capriciously. Or worse, made in retaliation for some slight on the manager’s part, real or imagined. In their role as the city’s board of directors for whom the manager works, councilors are at a disadvantage in that they cannot reveal Mr. Bar-rett’s managerial shortcomings, if there were any. Those councilors who oppose the negotiated deal, believing Mr. Barrett was treated unfairly, will have their say, but the councilors who wanted to end the manager’s tenure will be muzzled, perhaps leaving residents with the impression that there were no substantive reasons to hasten his retirement.

There is a third way.

Having given as their reason a “desire for change and wish to pursue a new vision for the city,” councilors now can clearly articulate where they want to take the city. It is reasonable that they take some time to formulate their goals, and how city government can achieve them, because Mr. Barrett is not scheduled to step down until April 30.

Bangor can be seen as a series of contradictions — third largest city in Maine, yet centered in a region losing population; an attractive and vibrant downtown, yet dwarfed by the sprawling mall; a service center to the northern and eastern third of the state, yet also a nice place to live; in a state where tourism is the biggest industry, yet not a tourist destination.

What should, and what can Bangor be? Residents deserve an answer.

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