Lewiston City Council debates role of School Committee representative

Jan. 5—LEWISTON — A new slate of city officials set the rules for the coming term Tuesday, but not before debating the role of the City Council's representative to the School Committee.

During Monday's inauguration, the council elected Ward 1 Councilor Linda Scott, a former School Committee member, to fill the role. The position is considered a full member of the School Committee and acts as a liaison between the two bodies.

Councilor Lee Clement, one of only two returning councilors from the previous term, proposed new language to the rules that would have stipulated that the position is "the voice of the City Council and, as such, shall represent the wishes of the majority of the Council and not act as a separate and detached agent."

The move showed lingering questions among some officials over how the position has been handled in the past, with Clement stating that in the past, a majority of councilors have run into unnecessary resistance from the representative over a policy issue.

"We want to be able to say, if we have an idea, that our representative is required to carry that to (the School Committee)," he said. "We were told flat out in one instance, I don't have to do that."

Earlier this year, clear tensions arose between city and school officials over the school budget, with former Councilor Alicia Rea, the representative to the School Committee, receiving some criticism over the back-and-forth between the two bodies.

Councilor Robert McCarthy said he agreed with the "idea behind" the language, stating that in the past the position has sometimes "strayed from the council's wishes."

But while several councilors sympathized with the general idea, city staff said a legal review found issues with the proposed language, including that it could violate the city's own charter.

Scott said she hoped her fellow councilors would "have faith" that she would speak for the whole council, but she questioned the use of "majority" to define the council's opinion. She argued she might not always know what the opinion of the majority of the council is on a certain issue.

Councilor Scott Harriman said the council should "give our representative agency to act as they see fit" as a full member of the School Committee.

Mayor Sheline said he sees the position as one that can voice the opinions of the council, but said, "In my mind, we don't ever get to tell you how to vote."

Clement ultimately withdrew his motion to add the language to the rules. Administration recommended that the council issue a resolution to the School Committee when and if issues arise.

In Auburn this year, Mayor Jason Levesque announced during his inaugural address that he would be stepping into the role after years in which it was delegated to a councilor. By charter, the position is the mayor's.