LEWISTON, Maine – Ed Barrett doesn’t let people photograph his desk.
“That was the rule in Bangor,” he says.
It’s not that he’s ashamed of it. It’s just that it’s cluttered with papers, reports, memos, news articles and other kinds of information.
As city administrator, he tries to read it all – and he does pretty well, he said.
“Being in local government for as many years as I have, one of the things I can do pretty well is make sure we’ve looked at an issue, analyzed and considered things we might not have thought of otherwise,” Barrett said. “And I think people appreciate that I read the stuff they prepare, and ask questions and help think things through.”
His desk is one that sees a lot of work, and his office is much the same. Sparsely decorated, there’s little art on the wall or plaques marking the honors he’s received.
There is one photo, taken on his last day as Bangor city manager in November 2010. Everyone wore sweater vests – his wardrobe signature – in his honor. Some went so far as to paste white brush mustaches below their noses for the photograph – again, in his honor. Barrett, Bangor city manager for 22 years, came to Lewiston one year ago.
“His reputation preceded him,” Mayor Larry Gilbert said. “In talking with people from Bangor who knew him, I have yet to hear anyone say a negative word about Ed. It’s always been positive, and he’s lived up to those expectations.”
Gilbert sees a sense of calm in the City Council chambers these days, and he gives much of the credit to Barrett.
“His relationship with this council has set a tone of cooperation and respect and I think that’s obvious,” Gilbert said. “Even though there have been disagreements and the votes have been far from unanimous, it’s all been done with respect and civility.”
But if things have been quiet, Barrett said, it’s still been a busy year. Councilors and city staff have dealt with issues that will shape Lewiston for years to come.
At the top of the list is a proposed casino in Bates Mill No. 5. When Barrett came on board, casino backers were collecting signatures to put the matter on a ballot.
“But the language they used wasn’t at all favorable to the city,” Barrett said.
He and his staff spent several weeks meeting with casino backers, negotiating a more favorable option agreement with better terms and more control.
“We went back and forth several times between the council and the developer,” he said. “But the result was something that worked better for the city.”
There was also the matter of the Bates Mill No. 5 building, scheduled for demolition in March. Councilors stayed that demolition at the last minute, after weeks of debate and closed-door briefings.
In the end, councilors voted to preserve the building and build a 378-space parking garage in its shadow. Work on the garage is now complete, and the money the council had planned to spend on demolishing the building went to fix local roads.
“Then, we followed that with a difficult budget process, which was complicated by the economy and the reductions in state aid,” Barrett said.
Councilors ended up adopting a budget that cut 22 staff positions and still increased tax bills by $75 on a $150,000 home.
“Those were three issues that were all controversial,” Barrett said. “They were controversial votes, but at the same time I think everybody on the council handled it very well. They listened to each other and accepted that they might not always agree.”
He thinks that’s why he was hired.
“There had obviously been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the city at that time,” he said. “Staff and council were looking for someone who could come in and work with the new council and bring some stability into the system and provide a little bit of direction.”
“(Barrett) works very well with his staff, and he’s highly respected by them,” Gilbert said. “He provides excellent advice to councilors and is able to draw from a large body of experience.”
Councilors agreed, praising Barrett for scheduling more frequent workshop meetings and keeping councilors informed.
“I was impressed that after all those years in Bangor, he was so familiar with Lewiston in just a couple of months,” Councilor Stephen Morgan said. “You could ask him about an issue at a property out on Montello Street, and he was familiar with it. It’s because of his experience; he knows what to look for.”
Councilor Larry Poulin declined to discuss his specific views on Barrett’s performance, saying he’d rather discuss his opinions with Barrett personally. But Poulin said he is pleased with how councilors and staff are working together.
“And good things just don’t happen in a vacuum,” Poulin said.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.