PORTLAND — It has been clear for months that Portland’s Charter Commission plans to ask voters in November to change the city charter to allow for a popularly elected mayor.

Only recently has the commission tackled the politically delicate issue of how much the mayor should be paid. After a long debate earlier this month, most commissioners settled on a minimum annual salary of $66,590.

That price may prove controversial for recession-weary voters. But the leadership that a full-time mayor could provide would pay dividends to the city in the long term, say commissioners who support the proposal.

“That person could easily pay for themselves and more,” said Commissioner Jim Gooch.

The commission will hold a public hearing May 6 as it prepares its recommendations. Two or three of the 12 members oppose the whole idea of a popularly elected mayor, but they lack the votes to stop the proposal.

Under the current charter, being mayor of Portland is a part-time job. The mayor, a city councilor chosen for the job by other councilors, has no additional power beyond appointing committees, chairing council meetings and representing the city at ceremonies.

Each year the council selects a new mayor, who is paid a $7,195 stipend.

According to the proposal backed by most members of the Charter Commission, voters would elect a mayor to be the city’s political leader for a four-year term.

Although the city manager would continue to answer to the City Council, that person would put together the annual budget under the direction of the mayor.

The mayor would still be the chairman and ninth member of the council. He or she also would be the city’s chief lobbyist in Augusta and Washington, D.C., and its recruiter for encouraging companies to invest in the city.

Gooch and other supporters of the proposal say that a mayor with a popular mandate and a four-year term would be effective in lobbying for the city’s interests and bringing in more state and federal and funding.

Commissioner James Cohen said the commission struggled to set a minimum pay that would match the responsibilities of the job – overseeing 1,300 workers and a quarter-billion dollar budget – without being excessive.

In the end, it settled on a formula: The mayor’s minimum salary would be 11⁄2 times the median household income in Portland, which now is $44,393.

Some commissioners argue that the post, which would have no power to hire and fire, should remain part-time and the pay should be a modest stipend.

That’s the way it works in Westbrook, where the mayor has more power than any other mayor in the state.

Westbrook’s chief executive appoints the city administrator and can fire department heads but isn’t paid much. The city’s current mayor, Colleen Hilton, receives $6,000 annually.

Thomas Valleau is among the few members of Portland’s Charter Commission who oppose having a popularly elected mayor. He said that being mayor should be a civic duty rather than a career.

“Our tradition is one of community service,” he said.

Under the current proposal, the first mayoral election would be in November 2011.

The City Council would be able to pay the mayor more than the minimum specified in the charter. The commission has yet to decide whether the council would determine the pay annually or every four years.

Commissioner Ben Chipman said it’s important for the charter to specify a minimum pay, to prevent the council from reducing the pay as punishment.

In relation to the city’s entire budget, the mayor’s pay would be insignificant, said Commission Chair Pamela Plumb. She said people must focus on the bigger issue: whether they want to keep the status quo or want a mayor to be elected by voters.

The commission is scheduled to hold its first public hearing on its recommendations May 6 and vote on a draft May 13. It will publish a preliminary report May 21.

On July 8, the commission will have a final vote. In August, it will hold a public hearing and formally put the proposal on the ballot for November.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at

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