New council rules will accompany Strimling in transition to Portland mayor

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PORTLAND — Incoming Mayor Ethan Strimling on Monday said his imminent departure as executive director of LearningWorks will not come easily.

“It is obviously bittersweet. This organization has meant more to me than anything in my life,” Strimling said. “It will be hard to walk out that door and give back the key.”

Strimling will be sworn in as the city’s second elected mayor in nearly 90 years on Monday, Dec. 7, at noon. He will preside over a City Council that is changing in composition and how it conducts meetings.

Strimling, who will succeed Mayor Michael Brennan, will be joined in taking the oath of office by new City Councilors Belinda Ray and Spencer Thibodeau. Ray replaces Councilor Kevin Donoghue in District 1, while Thibodeau replaces Councilor David Marshall in District 2.

As the new council begins its work, only half of the eight members – Councilors Nick Mavodones Jr., Jill Duson, Ed Suslovic and David Brenerman – have served more than one full term.

The most significant vote of the meeting will be to accept new rules, which include starting meetings at 5 p.m. Mondays, as opposed to the current 7 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., the council will take a 30-minute dinner break. When meetings resume at 7 p.m., the public will be allowed to comment on items that are not on the agenda. Those comments are now scheduled at the end of meetings, provided it is not past 11 p.m.

“You don’t need to stick around for the entire meeting,” Strimling said. “It is open mic at 7 p.m.”

Councilors will also have to be quicker in their requests to get items on agendas, which will be released on Wednesdays instead of Fridays, Strimling said.

“Hopefully, it will give the public a chance to really see what is on the agenda and know what is coming,” he said, adding the intent is to wrap up meetings by 10 p.m.

And council workshops will be held on interim Mondays, instead of before the regularly scheduled meetings.

The changes need council approval, but came out of an ad-hoc rules committee convened by Strimling and led by Mavodones; he was joined by Duson and Brenerman. Strimling said other councilors, including Suslovic, Donoghue, Ray and Thibodeau, also attended meetings and offered input.

Strimling has spent almost 20 years at LearningWorks, at 181 Brackett St., which provides educational and volunteer services for at-risk and economically disadvantaged youth and newly arrived immigrants in Cumberland and York counties.

Although he is a former state senator, unsuccessful candidate in the 1st Congressional District, and finished second in the 2011 mayoral race, Strimling said his career at LearningWorks was of greater consequence.

During the mayoral campaign, he cited his work as an example of the management skill he would bring to City Council meetings and his ability to build consensus.

Will Kilbreth, board president at LearningWorks, said Monday the nonprofit is in no hurry to find a permanent replacement.

“He is almost like a founder,” Kilbreth said. “We are determined to be pretty thoughtful and take our time.”

Strimling said he is confident of LearningWorks will continue to grow.

“The organization is very strong, serving more people with better outcomes,” he said. “I think this transition in leadership will be harder on me than them.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Ethan Strimling will step down as executive director of LearningWorks on Friday, Dec. 4. On Monday, Dec. 7, he will be sworn as Portland mayor.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.