PORTLAND — Civic leaders gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday morning to announce support for electing a mayor.
A commission elected to review the City Charter has recommended Portland switch to an elected, full-time mayor. The recommendation will go to voters in the form of a ballot question Nov. 2.
Currently, a city councilor is chosen by other councilors to serve as mayor for a one-year term. The current position is basically that of council chairman.
“We need someone whose job it will be to lead us,” said Portland Community Chamber President Ron Ward. “There needs to be the notion of accountability.”
The Charter Commission has recommended voters be able to elect a mayor to serve a four-year term. The mayor would have an annual salary on par with other city employees (currently estimated at about $67,000) and have veto power over the budget.
Supporters, however, feel the primary benefit of electing a mayor is that there will be a policy leader. Ward said the city often gets caught up in “endless process and gridlock.”
“We need to move quickly to compete,” he said. “The current structure is not capable of that.”
Pamela Plumb, the Charter Commission chairwoman and also a former city councilor and mayor, said that when the elected mayor issue has come up in the past she has always opposed it.
But she said the new proposal clearly defines the roles of the mayor and the city manager, something that was missing from proposals in the 1970s and ’80s.
“The resistance historically was the fear you will lose the professionalism in city government,” Plumb said. “I think we can find that balance.”
Also among the supporters of an elected mayor is former City Manager Tim Honey, who held that position from 1977 to 1986.
“It was a bit strange to have a new mayor come in every year,” Honey said. “There was a loss of continuity.”
He said Portland government is much more complex than when he was in charge, and there is a need for real political leadership.
“This is not a radical departure,” Honey said. “More than 70 percent of cities in this country with a city manager (form of government) have an elected mayor.”
The Elect Our Mayor campaign has a website, electourmayorportland.com, and plans to announce campaign events there as they are scheduled. So far, there is no organized opposition to the charter change.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org