Portland mayor extends olive branch to councilors

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PORTLAND — City Councilors Pious Ali and Brian Batson were sworn in Monday, while Mayor Ethan Strimling tried to strike a conciliatory tone with councilors.

Strimling, who often clashed with some councilors during his first year in office, welcomed Batson and Ali and praised the work by departing Councilors Jon Hinck and Ed Suslovic.

The council held two meetings Dec. 5, the first to inaugurate new members, and the second to begin a new year of city business that included approving pay increases for about 500 city employees.

“Whatever issues may come before this body, someone on the council is likely to have direct knowledge that can help illuminate it for the rest of us,” Strimling said. He also focused on conflicts stemming from styles of communication and interpretations of the City Charter.

Strimling acknowledged he and the council were at odds in his first year about the mayor’s approach to policy issues, including tax increment financing, new rental housing regulation, city land sales and the shift of public health services.

“Conflict in a body like this often means we are tackling tough issues and working to find the best answer. If we weren’t conflicted, I suggest we are not working hard enough to meet the challenges our great city demands,” Strimling said.

He said he hopes for better in the new year.

“This is the year I hope we can figure it out. Together, let us work to fulfill the new charter and realize this more democratic form of government that the people demanded, as we attempt to create a more perfect union in our small piece of America,” Strimling said.

Suslovic and Hinck were defeated Nov. 8 by Batson and Ali, respectively. 

The mayor noted Suslovic’s work in passing a ban on foam cups and containers; a 5-cent bag fee at grocery stores; getting the minimum age for buying tobacco raised to age 21, and passing a ban on selling dogs and cats bred at so-called “puppy mills.”

“Even puppies will be safer in our city,” Strimling said.

Strimling called Hinck the “environmental conscience of the council.”

Councilor Justin Costa praised Hinck’s work to establish a solar farm to power City Hall and to require commercial building owners to provide data on energy and water usage.

“We are going to be seeing and feeling the effects of those for decades,” he predicted.

New labor contract

In their business meeting, councilors approved a three-year labor deal with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1373 that will provide annual 2 percent pay increases.

City Manager Jon Jennings said the union has already ratified the contract, which replaces one that expired July 2.

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

Portland City Councilors Brian Batson, left, and Pious Ali are sworn in by City Clerk Kathy Jones in City Hall Dec. 5, as Mayor Ethan Strimling looks on.

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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.