BANGOR, Maine — The vote was closer but the result the same.
After a motion Monday night to reconsider last month’s decision to part ways with longtime City Manager Ed Barrett, city councilors narrowly agreed to stand by their original decision.
In a 5-4 vote, the council rejected Councilor Hal Wheeler’s motion to reinstate Barrett — much to the dismay of about 40 members of the public who attended Monday’s meeting even though Wheeler’s motion was not on the agenda. More than a dozen of those attendees spoke and each one pleaded with the council to either re-consider its decision or at least offer Barrett an apology for the manner in which he was treated.
“In the last 22 years, the city has run so smoothly. It’s a miracle of operation,” said resident Neil Comins. “Change for change’s sake is not the issue we should be facing.”
“I’m appalled at the method in which this was done,” said Norman Minsky, who chaired the City Council in the 1960s. “I’ve never seen this in 40 years.”
“You have a wondering public here. This is at least worth a second thought,” added Tim Woodcock, another former council chairman.
Frank Farrington, a recent council chairman who served with many of the current councilors, said he has lost confidence in the elected body.
While nothing changed, Monday’s discussion was more open and transparent than the original debate that led to Barrett’s sudden retirement last month. After kicking the idea around in executive session, councilors requested Barrett’s retirement after 22 years of service. They said the change was needed to allow the city to pur-sue a new direction. The council decided on Nov. 16 to sit down with a facilitator to debate what that vision of Bangor will be before the search begins for a replacement for Barrett, whose retirement is effective on or before April 30.
Councilor Gerry Palmer stood by his original decision even though he acknowledged its unpopularity.
“The reality is that our needs are changing. We have to look to the future,” he said, urging residents to exercise the same level of trust they had when they elected members of the nine-person body.
Voting with Palmer against reinstating Barrett were David Nealley, Richard Bronson, Susan Hawes and Pat Blanchette.
Blanchette stressed to residents that there was no hidden agenda behind Barrett’s retirement, nor did the decision represent any shortcomings he might have.
“He’s as honest as the day is long,” she said.
Voting with Wheeler to reinstate Barrett were Geoff Gratwick, Council Chairman Richard Stone and Cary Weston, the only councilor who wasn’t involved in the original decision.
Gratwick, who made his displeasure known after last month’s vote, said reinstating Barrett was a way to show the public that the council could change its mind after thoughtful deliberation.
Wheeler acknowledged that he changed his mind after last month’s vote and he said the council never gave Barrett a full hearing to discuss any concern. Wheeler said he brought the issue up Monday because the city has so many other decisions to make in the coming months, looking for a new manager would only weigh the council down more.
“I’m convinced [reinstating Barrett] is the right thing to do,” he said.
Barrett will stay on as city manager no later than April 30, based on the original agreement with the City Council. He also is a finalist for the city administrator position in Lewiston.
Barrett spoke briefly after Monday’s decision and emotionally thanked everyone who showed up to support him. His remarks demonstrated the class and integrity so many of his supporters spoke about.
“The city manager serves at the pleasure of the council, and I believe in that process,” Barrett said. “I’m confident that a change will serve as a catalyst to move forward … I hope we put this behind us.”
When he finished, the entire audience, including the council, stood and applauded, prompting Barrett to sheepishly smile and motion for them to sit back down.