LEWISTON — A new slate of city officials set the rules for the next term on Tuesday, but not before debating the role of the city council’s representative on the school committee.
At Monday’s groundbreaking, the council elected Ward 1 councilor Linda Scott, a former school committee member, to fill the position. 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 councilors returning from the previous term, proposed new wording to the rules which would have stated that the position is “the voice of city council and as such must represent the wishes of the majority of the Council and not act as a separate and seconded agent.
The move showed lingering questions among some officials about how the position has been handled in the past, with Clement saying that in the past a majority of advisers have encountered unnecessary resistance from the representative on a political issue.
“We want to be able to say, if we have an idea, that our representative is obliged to take it to the (school committee),” he said. “We were told emphatically in one instance, I don’t have to do this.”
Earlier this year, obvious tensions emerged between city and school officials over the school’s budget, with former councilor Alicia Rea, the school committee representative, receiving criticism over the back and forth between the two organs.
Councilor Robert McCarthy said he agreed with “the idea behind” the language, saying that in the past the position had sometimes “deviated from the wishes of the council”.
But while several councilors sympathized with the general idea, city staff said a legal review found problems with the proposed wording, including that it could violate the city’s own charter.
Scott said she hoped her fellow advisers “would have faith” that she would speak for the full council, but she questioned the use of “majority” to define council opinion. She argued that she may not always know what the majority opinion of the board is on a certain issue.
Councilor Scott Harriman said the board should ‘give our representation agency to do as it sees fit’ as a full member of the school committee.
Mayor Sheline said he sees the position as one that can voice council’s opinions, but said, “In my mind, we can never tell you how to vote.”
Clement eventually withdrew his motion to add language to the rules. The administration has recommended that the board 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 assume the role after years of being delegated to a councillor. By charter, the position is that of mayor.
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