New beginnings for Lewiston

·4 min read

Jan. 11—It was out with the old and in with the new at Monday night's Lewiston City Council meeting — and not just for the incoming group of councilors but for the city's form of government itself.

Outgoing councilors offered emotional goodbyes, while their replacements gave thanks to the voters who entrusted them to their new positions. And new Mayor Dan Johnson noted his campaign promises as he pledged to work with the new council and city staff to continue the progress of the former council.

"On Nov. 2, 2021, the city of Lewiston made a historic choice by electing to return to a strong-mayor form of government," said Johnson, who also serves as Lewiston's senator in the Legislature. "As candidate for Mayor Johnson, I campaigned on a platform to lower the tax burden, limit budget growth, reduce regulations and take costs out of doing business. Time will be needed to make the changes in city government, but they will bring these desired future outcomes, and it will happen."

Johnson and several others offered thanks to former City Manager Alan Nygaard, whose position was eliminated by the change from a city manager-city council form of government. Johnson said he appreciated Nygaard's strong focus on strategic planning and hoped to build on that work during his term.

Outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder — the only returning councilor — Hannah Liedkie, former councilor and former Mayor Jim Kleeburg, Luke Blount, Kassee Forsmann and Rick Tousley all took the oath of office after Johnson (Tousley and Forsmann attended the meeting via Zoom). Councilors also voted 5-1 to select Liedkie as their council president, with Kleeburg supporting himself for that position. As mayor, Johnson will only vote to break ties.

The second-floor community room at the Lewiston City Library was full for the changing of the guard, with dozens of family members and other well-wishers in the audience. And while the night was mostly dedicated to formalities, the new council did attend to some city business. First, it passed an ordinance that revised Chapter 2 of city code regarding administration to change things like references to "city manager" to "mayor" and set out the duties and responsibilities of the mayor and council.

City Attorney Jana Gomez explained the ordinance needed to be passed so the new form of government can function. But she also reminded councilors that she sent them a 23-page questionnaire regarding more specific items in the chapter, and suggested they form a subcommittee to hash out more permanent rules.

The six-member council adopted the ordinance 5-1, with Blount voting no because he objected to combining the usually separate three readings of the ordinance into one to expedite the process and ensure the government is functioning legally. Councilors did agree with Gomez' suggestion to form the subcommittee at its meeting in two weeks.

Councilors also voted 4-2 to revisit the proposed purchase of the former Twin City Foods property just to the north of the library. The former council came close to purchasing the blighted 11.5 acres last month, but opted to leave the matter in the hands of the new council. A Vancouver, Wash., developer entertained a massive project on the site last year, but ultimately opted against moving forward with the purchase.

And while the former councilor voted to take assignment of the developer's $2 million purchase agreement, Gomez said that Twin City Foods rejected the city's request to extend an $80,000 earnest money payment deadline from Dec. 31 to the end of February. That means the guaranteed $2 million price is void, and the property is essentially back on the market. Twin City Foods has indicated that it is open to offers, Gomez added.

The land has sat dormant for more than a decade after the food processing plant there was razed, and Community Development officials have argued the city is the right party to buy it, rehabilitate it, divide it into manageable pieces and then put them back on the market. Blount and Kleeburg voted against bringing the matter back, with Kleeburg saying it shouldn't be a high priority for the city.

Bringing his time as city manager to completion, Nygaard said his four years in the position were challenging, yet rewarding. He recognized that being a city councilor is hard work, and thanked the outgoing members for being up to the task. He also thanked city staff for their efforts under his leadership.

"This community is lucky to have such a dedicated workforce," he said.

Former councilors John Bradbury, Kevin Kelly, John Pernsteiner, Cari Miller, Bob Blakey and former Mayor Mike Collins all took the chance to speak at the beginning of the meeting, with many thanking their families and constituents for their support. Most also offered gratitude to city staffers for all the work they put in on a daily basis, which includes making sure the council is informed on the issues.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com.

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