UPDATE- The Lewiston City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to postpone any action on the items below until March 19. No change in city restaurant inspections or staffing will occur until after that date.
All the following stem from the temporary January closure of a popular restaurant called DaVinci’s at 150 Mill Street in Lewiston, Maine:
—On Jan. 23, the Lewiston City Council was expected to notify Commissioner Jeanne M. Lambrew of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, terminating the City’s agreement with the state for City inspection services of restaurants within the City.
—The Lewiston City Council will also likely approve a supplemental FY24 budget adjustment to rescind the funding for the Certified Sanitation Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer who did those restaurant inspections for the remainder of the fiscal year.
—The City of Lewiston has already placed Planning and Code Enforcement Director Dave Hediger on immediate administrative leave, which is part of the “continued fallout,” according to local media, over the recent temporary closure of DaVinci’s.
—The person whose position and funding are likely being eliminated is Louis Lachance, the city’s long-time restaurant inspector who holds the sanitation inspector position, expected to get the axe on Jan. 23.
No official record explaining why DaVinci’s was closed has been made public. Closures only occur when something is causing a severe threat to human health.
DaVinci’s co-owner Craig Tribuno told local media that someone had reported seeing a cockroach in the restaurant’s kitchen. From Social Media posts, the closure appears to have begun on Jan. 8, and the re-opening came a week later on Jan. 15.
Tribune said the closure cost the restaurant $80,000, and he wanted assurance from the City that it wouldn’t happen again. Neither he nor city elected officials said what led to the closure or what the $80,000 bought
No restaurant inspection reports have been made available for this incident, but earlier reports for DaVinci’s are posted on the City’s code enforcement website. And DaVinci’s failed a 2019 inspection conducted by Lachance.
A failed inspection is one with more than three critical violations or more than 10 non-critical violations. A failing establishment gets re-inspected within 30 days or less. All critical violations must be corrected within ten days.
DaVinci’s 2019 violations were extensive but did not require the restaurant’s closing. Closures under the 2013 Maine Code occur only when a food service establishment is found to pose an imminent health hazard to public health. DaVinci passed its re-inspection in 2019, and the last regular inspection was in early 2022.
With a population of not more than 40,000, Lewiston has been one of three cities contracted by Maine to do restaurant inspections. It has about 175 establishments. Ironically, the Lewiston City Council signed its current agreement with the state only last Nov. 14.
But just 69 days later, the Lewiston City Council will likely trigger the 30-day termination clause, meaning Maine CDC is on its own.
A city building inspector, writing on Facebook, said: “The message being received is that if I do my job well, I might no longer have a job. Imagine going to work with that feeling.”
Immediate action by the non-partisan government could not be taken against Lachance because a union contract covered him. However, if his position and funding Are eliminated after tonight’s council meeting, those details might not count for much.
Hediger, the planning and code enforcement director, has worked for Lewiston for 25 years. Lachancee said Hediger is “the hardest working employee at the city.”
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