Portland City Council may proceed without committees

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PORTLAND — For now, City Council committees do not exist while two proposals to staff and lead them from Mayor Ethan Strimling have been rejected.

“I am operating under the pretense we are not going to have committees,” Strimling said Dec. 20, two days after his first list was rejected by an 8-1 vote.

The second proposal never got to a vote.

Councilors Spencer Thibodeau and Belinda Ray said they plan to move forward on policy matters in some manner in the committees they led last year.

“I’m planning to hold my meeting in the third week of January. If not, I will have an agenda ready for anyone who will be moving in my position,” Thibodeau said Dec. 20 of the Sustainability & Transportation Committee he led through early this month.

Ray said she has been talking with city Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta on how to progress in the event no compromise is reached.

“I would love to just move forward with committee stuff,” she said, adding she would like to continue leading the Health & Human Services Committee.

Possibilities include calling a “meeting of the whole” to allow councilors to take on policies first considered at the committee level, or to continue meeting without committee recommendations to the full council.

The City Charter says it is up to the mayor to appoint committees and leadership. It is typically done by the first council meeting in December, followed by a vote after the new and returning councilors are sworn in.

The first proposal presented by Strimling retained Ray, Thibodeau and Councilor Jill Duson in leadership roles on the Health & Human Services, Sustainability & Transportation, and Housing committees, respectively.

Strimling also appointed himself chairman of the Finance Committee, while proposing to shift Councilor Nick Mavodones to lead the Economic Development Committee. Mavodones would replace retired Councilor David Brenerman on the latter committee, and keep a seat on the former.

“My role as mayor is to do what is best for the city and putting people where they can do the best good,” Strimling said Dec. 20.

Strimling also cited five clauses in the charter, four in the specific section on mayoral duties regarding the budgets, as reasons he should lead the Finance Committee. It is a move he should have made after first taking office, he said.

“The charter makes it adamantly clear,” Strimling said. “The only way to formalize it is to have the mayor be chairman of the Finance Committee.

Thibodeau said he has no objection to Strimling being part of the Finance Committee, but objects to the mayor as its chairman.

“(Strimling) was unable to get through two (budget) seasons without creating an unfortunate distraction in each one,” Thibodeau said, citing Strimling’s “pavement over people” comments in his address about the fiscal year 2016 budget presented by City Manager Jon Jennings, and this year’s dispute about when and how to implement the use of body cameras by city police.

“What I did not want to create was the appearance of (Strimling and Jennings) disagreeing and butting heads again,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t want to create an atmosphere that creates Rumble in the Jungle Part III.”

The dispute between Ray and Strimling has been particularly sharp. Each has accused each other of bullying, and Strimling has rejected a list of suggested committee roles Ray presented to him Dec. 3.

Ray said she composed the list because councilors had no real idea of what the mayor was proposing in the days leading to the Dec. 4 meeting. She added his method for presenting committee leadership and membership is typical.

“He bullies, intimidates, divides, and misrepresents,” she said Dec. 22. “These are not the tactics of a collaborator.”

Ray said she believes the mayor should take a wider role.

“I honestly don’t think it is the mayor’s role to serve on committees, he should be a coordinator, a facilitator who touches all the committees and keeps everyone apprised,” she said.

The second list proposed by Strimling is one he said allows fresh blood into committee leadership, including making Councilor Brian Batson chairman of the Housing Committee, Councilor Justin Costa the chairman of the Economic Development Committee and Strimling the chairman of Health & Human Services.

The second list not only removes Ray, Thibodeau and Duson from their leadership roles, it also removes them from the committees completely.

“I don’t believe it was put together with any sort of seriousness,” Thibodeau said.”It in no way allowed for any continuity in existing committee structure.”

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

Mayor Ethan Strimling said if necessary he will move ahead in 2018 without City Council committees.

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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.
  • Cat Eldridge

    It’s going to make some very long hours for all if they operate everything as a Committee Of The Whole but short of legal. Action I doubt this is going to resolved.