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After inaugurations, Portland councilors assert agenda-setting authority

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After inaugurations, Portland councilors assert agenda-setting authority

PORTLAND — With pomp and ceremony, city councilors and members of the School Board were sworn in Monday to begin their terms.

The newly composed council then voted to maintain its power over deciding which items will be discussed at council meetings.

In separate ceremonies, City Clerk Katherine Jones administered the oath of office to three councilors and three School Board members who were elected Nov. 5, and three student representatives to the School Board. The School Board also elected Sarah Thompson as its new chairwoman.

Members of the new and old School Board arrived to light applause in Council Chambers Monday afternoon, each wearing a carnation on their lapel.

Newly elected School Board members Pious Ali and Anna Trevorrow took an oath of office alongside re-elected member Laurie Davis and student representatives  Eliza D’Anieri of Casco Bay High School, Mohamed Nur of Deering High School, and Hallie Repeta, of Portland High School.

Ali and Trevorrow both won at-large seats on the School Board in a crowded field of six candidates. The remaining four candidates trailed the leaders by wide margins. In a separate race in District 3, Davis held on to her uncontested seat.

Ali, 44, was born in the African nation of Ghana, where he worked as a photojournalist. In 2000, Ali moved to New York. Two years later, he moved to Portland. Ali is believed to be the first African-born Muslim elected to public office in Maine.

Ali is a full-time temporary counselor for the city's Refugee Services. He is also the founder and executive director of Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance, director and co-founder of the King Fellows and has been involved in several different organizations including Seeds of Peace, Preble Street’s Lighthouse Shelter, Volunteers of America and more.

Trevorrow, 31, is originally from Monmouth. She works as an aide for three unenrolled legislators in Augusta. She is also the founding member and director of Green Initiatives Education Fund, a nonprofit group "dedicated to a just and sustainable future," according to her website.

In 2009, Trevorrow was elected to the city's Charter Commission.

Outgoing board member and Chairman Jaimey Caron, who served for six years, said Monday was "a nostalgic day" as he bid farewell to the board, fellow outgoing member Kate Snyder and departing student representatives Madeline Holton, Oliver Nolan and Christopher Thorne.

Thompson, who had been nominated chairwoman by a School Board caucus on Nov. 19, was unanimously elected in an official vote shortly after oaths were taken and the newest members took their seats.

During her acceptance speech, Thompson, who has held an at-large seat since 2006, said the board needs to engage the community and reach consensus on spending and capital improvements. This year, the School Board would conduct meetings at locations throughout the city, she said.

"Community support is critical to our district's success," Thompson said. "We need all of us committed to the continuation of providing Portland students with a nurturing and stable environment."

City Council

Earlier in the day, two incumbent members of the City Council and a first-time councilor were sworn in.

Incumbent Councilor Jill Duson will serve a four-year, at-large term, while incumbent Councilor Ed Suslovic began his second three-year term representing District 3.

Jon Hinck took the three-year, at-large seat previously held by John Anton, who chose not to run for a third term on the council.

Duson retained her seat with 6,081 votes, or 47 percent of those cast, in a three-way race with challengers Christopher Shorr and Gregory Smaha.

A Pennell Avenue resident, Duson, 59, has served on the council since 2001 and is vice chairwoman of its Legislative Committee. A lawyer, she works as a compliance manager for the Maine Human Rights Commission and also as a clerk at the L.L. Bean retail store in Freeport.

In the District 3 council race, Suslovic defeated challenger Gregory Blouin with 1,912 votes, or about 69 percent of the ballots cast. District 3 includes the neighborhoods of Rosemont, Deering Center, Libbytown and Nasons Corner.

Suslovic, 53, of Kenwood Street, is a community development consultant who held an at-large seat before winning the district election in 2010. He also previously served a term as a state representative. He is currently chairman of the council's Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee.

Hinck received 7,101 votes, or 58 percent of those cast, in a race against Wells Lyons. Hinck, who is 59 and a resident of Pine Street, is a lawyer who co-founded Greenpeace USA and has worked for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

After the ceremony, councilors held a special meeting focused on procedural matters. Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who chairs the Nominating Committee, submitted a resolution affirming the right of councilors to add items to the council's meeting agenda.

But Mayor Michael Brennan said the resolution was potentially in conflict with the City Charter,  under which the mayor directs the city manager to draft the agenda. Duson called that interpretation an "overread."

The issue has been a contentious one in the past, with councilors disagreeing about who has the final say on what will be covered in meetings. In one instance, according to Leeman, an item proposed by a councilor was omitted in an agenda.

But the council claimed the agenda-setting power by a 6-2 vote, with Brennan and Suslovic dissenting.

In its following regular meeting, the council then postponed most of its agenda  items. Among them were orders appropriating $3.6 million in bonds and general funds to finance the consolidation of city school offices downtown.

The council is scheduled to take up the orders again on Dec. 16. If approved by a supermajority of the council, the School Department would move its central office, the West Day Treatment Program and the Multilingual and Multicultural Center to 353 Cumberland Ave., the former site of Goodwill Industries.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4. Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.