This is the second of a two-part column in which Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert interviewed City Administrator Ed Barrett after completion of Barrett’s first year on the job. The first part ran last week.
By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
What is your long term vision for the City of Lewiston in five years and beyond?
One of the strongest things I have seen since coming to Lewiston is the deep roots that many who live here have in this community, its culture and its history. Generations of families have been born here and have chosen to stay here. We need to work to make sure that future generations will be able to continue to make Lewiston their home.
This means that the economic transition of the community must continue to ensure that jobs are available not only for today’s residents, but also for tomorrow’s.
The educational opportunities that are essential to economic success will be provided through outstanding schools, colleges and universities and the educational and economic aspirations of our young people will increase.
The cultural, artistic and recreational opportunities that the area offers will expand and prosper, helping to attract and keep young professionals in our community.
What is your impression of city staff after your first year experience in working with them?
I have been impressed with the knowledge, professionalism and commitment of city staff and their ability to continue moving our organization forward in spite of the economic challenges we have and are facing.
Lewiston is blessed with a stable staff composed of individuals who know the community, its history and its culture intimately.
They rose to the financial challenge we faced this year by offering suggestions and recommendations and accepting the cuts that were made without complaint. Many key employees have been asked to take on additional responsibilities as we have reduced the size of city staff. They have all done so willingly.
While parts of the organization are under stress due to the additional service demands resulting from a poor economy, staff has risen to the challenge of maintaining services to our citizens.
Tell us a bit about your philosophy in working with a Mayor and City Council and how has that worked for you for over 20 years in Bangor and now with Lewiston?
The Mayor and City Council are elected by the citizens as their representatives to make important policy decisions that affect the community, both today and into the future. They rely on city staff to provide them the information that they need to make these decisions and to then to carry them out. One of the most important parts of my job is to ensure that the city’s elected officials have the information that they need to make wise decisions.
In addition to providing information, staff has an obligation to provide the Mayor and City Council with a range of options to consider along with the implications of each course of action.
In my experience, if staff supports elected officials in this way, they will almost always reach the right conclusion, even if that conclusion may not be the one that I or staff recommend or would prefer.
A collegial decision-making process, where staff works closely with the council to provide the necessary information and analysis, has shown itself time and again to produce better results than decisions made by a single individual.
While this process can be frustrating and time consuming and may not always result in unanimity, it is one of the core strengths of our system of local government.
You tend to keep a low profile publicly. Tell us about Ed Barrett and how he unwinds from the rigors of managing a city, your likes, dislikes, etc.
When I get home late after a hard or frustrating day, I like to sit down with a cup of tea and read a good book. While I read a variety of things, my favorites are mysteries. Getting into a good story lets me relax and put the day aside.
Most days, there’s also some time for play with our 18-month-old golden doodle, Charlie. Charlie is a great dog who loves everyone (even Mayor Gilbert) and especially other dogs. (Mayor’s note: “Charlie, don’t love me too much!”)
On weekends, I usually go with Charlie and Nancy to Charlie’s favorite place: the dog park. Our three cats, Whimsy, Lady and Arlo (our alpha cat), sometime demand time and attention as well.
I like history, current affairs (when they are not too depressing), analyses of why complex systems fail, puns, classical music and keeping up with my son, Will, a web designer in Chicago (who is also a classical cellist).
I enjoy a variety of foods—anything with tomatoes ranks pretty high—including Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian (it’s those tomatoes) and Polish (my primary heritage).
I dislike winter squash, tofu (except in hot and sour soup), eggplant, turnips and beets. Nancy could probably add more to my dislike list.
I enjoy interesting discussions and debates. I dislike distortions of the truth or sound bites designed to misinform or mislead.
You and your wife Nancy are not only a married couple, but the best of friends. What do you like to do together in your off time? We’d also like to get to know Nancy. Would you tell us a bit about her?
I’m blessed that Nancy understands the trials and tribulations of local government management. Her father, Julian, was city manager in Bangor and Portland in the 1950s and early ’60s, so she grew up immersed in local government. She even attended Portland City Council meetings for fun.
Professionally, she worked for the City of Rochester, New York and was City Manager in Calais and Orono and Finance Director in Waterville. She understands when I show up two hours later than I estimated on City Council nights.
Nancy is also a great reader, although on much wider-ranging subjects than me. Our normal evening involves dinner, play time with Charlie and quietly reading together.
We both love the outdoors, something that Nancy also inherited from her family. Her first attempt at Katahdin came at age 5. (She actually made it to the top at 6.)
When the weather is good, we love to go canoeing (hopefully at least one day each weekend), although we didn’t go as often this last summer what with moving, working on the house and other distractions.
We also try to spend at least most of a week each summer in Baxter State Park, often camping on Lake Matagamon or Upper South Branch Pond, both in the northern and less frequented part of the park.
Nancy handles our vegetable garden, while I often work on annuals and perennials. We specialize in the overgrown English garden look, since I tend to want to buy a few of just about everything I see at the nursery.
Both of us enjoy attending concerts and plays, and we’ve enjoyed everything we’ve seen so far at the Franco-American Heritage Center.
By the way, it didn’t take you long to purchase a home here. Have you sold your home in Bangor? Are you settled in now in Lewiston and how do you like it as a couple? Do you feel at home here in spite of the fact that Bangor was your home for the previous 22 years?
We just recently sold our home in Bangor, which takes a big load off our minds since we won’t have to worry about it being vacant over the winter. It is a great house, and the family who purchased it seems to have fallen in love with it as well.
We’re getting settled here in Lewiston. Most everything is now unpacked (we even have all of our books out and in bookcases), although we’re still working on the last load that we brought down several weeks ago in advance of closing on the sale in Bangor.
This summer, our focus was on the outside of the house: new gutters, driveway, some tree removals and beginning on landscaping (where a gravel pad used to be). Over the winter, we may do some inside projects, and next summer we’ll begin round two on landscaping.
We feel at home here largely because of how gracious and welcoming everyone has been. Nancy has gradually been finding local replacements for the services and products we used in Bangor. After living in a community for a long time, relocating is hard but exciting.
Professionally, I’m meeting and working with new people and dealing with a combination of issues—both familiar and new. We’re finding our way around the Lewiston-Auburn area and learning what this region has to offer. Lewiston has changed dramatically for the better since I first visited here over 20 years ago. Both of us look forward to helping our city continue to grow and prosper in the future.
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.