Portland mayor's new committee plans get chilly reception

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PORTLAND — Mayor Ethan Strimling will make a renewed effort to appoint leaders and members of seven standing committees when the City Council meets Wednesday night, Jan. 3.

“I’m going to continue to do this in the best way possible, but if committees don’t happen, I will have to figure out how we can operate,” Strimling said Dec. 29.

Getting the list approved with six council votes appeared to be an uphill fight as Councilors Councilors Jill Duson, Spencer Thibodeau and Kim Cook last week said they are opposed to both lists that could be brought forward for a vote.

“I can’t even put it to words how completely flummoxed I am by his approach,” Duson said Dec. 28. 

Strimling’s last attempt to compose committee leadership and membership failed by an 8-1 vote Dec. 18, and an alternative list never made it to a vote.

The new primary list still nominates Strimling as leader of the Finance Committee. The mayor sees leading the committee as the way to completely fulfill his duties regarding the budgeting process as outlined in five sections of the city charter.

Strimling also said he will endeavor to meet with each councilor before the meeting to determine why they oppose his leadership of the Finance Committee.

Duson, Cook and Thibodeau gave reasons that ranged from differing interpretations of the city charter to concerns about how the council would work to Strimling’s approach to the budget in the past two years.

Duson said mayoral budgetary roles are to consult before the budget is introduced by the city manager, to attend committee meetings to make suggestions if desired, and ultimately, to accept or veto the budget. A budget veto can be overturned by six votes by councilors.

“The mayor should not be in control of the middle process,”  Duson said.

Cook said she had considered whether Strimling should be finance chairman, but ultimately opposes the idea.

“He obviously wants to chair finance and sit on other committees. I don’t think it is the best way forward for the council to function efficiently,” Cook said. “He can bring forward proposals to committee no matter if he leads or sits.”

“I’m glad he has proposed another slate, as I expected he would. The problem is, he is unfortunately not listening,” Thibodeau said Dec. 28.

Thibodeau has already said he objects to Strimling leading the Finance Committee because his participation in the last two budget processes was unnecessarily divisive.

“I’m pushing back because nobody is giving a reason,” Strimling said. “If it is personal, not philosophical, then that is unfortunate. We all need to put aside our personal grievances.”

The councilors also objected to the new list getting released publicly before Strimling spoke with them.

On his second list, Strimling nominates himself to be part of the Finance Committee and to lead the Health & Human Services Committee. Councilor Belinda Ray would shift from leading the HHS Committee to leading the Sustainability & Transportation Committee Thibodeau has chaired.

The list also has not passed muster with Duson, Cook and Thibodeau.

“He displaces Belinda and Councilor Thibodeau, it is not what the rest of the council wants,” Cook said. “Those committees functioned very well, as far as I can tell. There was no need to change aside from his desire to grab more authority.”

Strimling and councilors are also preparing to move ahead without council committees for the year, though none find it an efficient approach.

The mayor said he felt the month-long delay in staffing committees has set the council back on policy. Typically, December is a month with few committee meetings, even though leadership and membership have been set.

According to the city website, there was a total of three meetings of seven committees in December following new appointments in 2015 and 2016. 

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

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling will again propose council committee assignments at the Jan. 3 council meeting at City Hall.

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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.