Scrutinizing your council a good idea

Posted Dec. 04, 2009, at 7:53 p.m.

Bangor City Manager Ed Barrett is heading to Lewiston. The current recall election designed to oust the five city councilors who voted to show him the exit ramp most likely will fail, and the city is in the midst of an important and expensive project that will require great stewardship.

Good stewardship does not mandate across-the-board agreement, but it does necessitate mature participation and cooperation.

Whether city leaders will step up to that challenge remains to be seen.

Questioning and criticizing elected officials is relatively easy. They make public decisions that involve expenditures of other people’s money; they are routinely covered by the press and have ample opportunities to misspeak.

Especially on the local level, those sitting in public seats on various boards and committees have different levels of education and media experience and varying degrees of tact.

Those who serve locally do so voluntarily, giving up their time and lending their voice to the decisions that shape a municipality’s growth and in doing so open themselves up to public scrutiny.

There has been a whole lot of that in this city in recent weeks and rightfully so.

There is the camp pushing for the recall of the councilors who opted to oust a 22-year, well-liked city manager for reasons they seem unable or unwilling to disclose.

Longtime Councilor Pat Blanchette told me the council handled the matter quietly for Barrett’s benefit because he was well-liked and respected among councilors. It was better for him to leave without a lot of media fanfare, she said.

Of course that insinuates that Barrett had somehow behaved badly if indeed he was in need of the council’s “protection.”

Barrett has said little but let me know unequivocally that his reputation was intact and that he had nothing to be ashamed of. A hint of anything else was extremely offensive.

That the Lewiston City Council swept him up so quickly this week would seem to support that neither Barrett’s record nor reputation was in dispute.

I did learn last week that during the closed-door Bangor council sessions regarding his future with this city, one councilor who was up for re-election the next week suggested Barrett simply tell the public that it was “his choice” to retire, thereby eliminating any potential controversy.

Barrett graciously refused that invitation, saying he was willing to stand on his history. He correctly felt it more truthful to let the taxpayers and his staff know that it was the council’s decision to let him go.

Though Barrett has stated that it was not his desire to leave Bangor right now, he has accepted the new challenge in Lewiston and has stated that it is time for both cities to move forward.

He’s right.

But the manner in which some Bangor councilors have acted during the past few weeks is cause for concern and should put all taxpayers on alert. Council meetings and committee meetings can be monotonous, and few people have the willingness or the time to attend them as perhaps they should.

The meetings are broadcast locally, which certainly allows for closer scrutiny by the public.

Clearly the current council is divided and, while the recall election attempt may fail, the onus of ensuring that this group competently represents the best interest of Bangor falls upon us as its residents.

There are important matters at hand, and it may be time to put this “badness” behind us, but it does not mean that it should be forgotten. More now than ever, as the city seeks a new manager and embarks on the task of building a new arena and civic center and charting its course toward a “new vision,” it will be up to the residents here to watch and listen closely to see who is directing that course and for what purpose or agenda.

Much of the deal that those five councilors set forth in that meeting a few weeks ago is done and cannot be changed, but going forward their ability to step up and provide good stewardship should be closely and respectfully scrutinized.

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