Ethan Strimling is quickly making it clear that there’s a new mayor in town.

A few months into taking over as mayor of Portland, Strimling has relocated the mayor’s office in City Hall to be closer to city administrative staff, and now a renovation project is underway to expand the space. The physical changes come on the heels of a posting last month for a special assistant to the mayor – a new senior-level position on the staff.

Strimling has promised to redefine the role of Portland’s full-time elected mayor, a post created by city voters in 2010. He campaigned by saying he would collaborate closely with city staff and other elected leaders.

A gradual expansion of the office of mayor – and its budget – was among the concerns of people who opposed creation of the position, although building renovations probably weren’t what they had in mind.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the cost of the renovations is $5,000, which will come from the city manager’s contingency funds. Grondin also said plans were being made to renovate the old mayor’s office space had Strimling stayed there instead.

Mayor Ethan Strimling has relocated the mayor’s office in City Hall to be closer to city administrative staff.

Mayor Ethan Strimling has relocated the mayor’s office in City Hall to be closer to city administrative staff.

The office that had been occupied by former Mayor Michael Brennan had been in a different suite of staff offices near the City Council Chambers, but Strimling opted to move down the hall into the executive department to be closer to the city’s administrative staff and to improve security, something that’s being done throughout the building, Grondin said. The new office is behind a reception area.

The office he moved into didn’t have room for a conference table, so a wall is being removed to expand into an empty space behind it, she said. An area also is being created for the special assistant, who has yet to be hired.

Other members of the city manager’s staff will move into the former mayor’s office.

Strimling said he wanted to move the office to a place that was more accessible to the public. “The current renovations are simply to make the three offices down here more user-friendly,” he said.

While the shuffling of offices at City Hall did not require the consent of the City Council, some councilors noted the symbolism of the changes.

Councilor David Brenerman said he thought the old office was suitable for the mayor. He wasn’t aware of the plans to renovate it.

“It’s up to the mayor to justify why he needs to renovate his office,” he said about the ongoing project. “The cost doesn’t appear to be large, but sometimes we need to look at the message it sends as well.”

Councilor Jon Hinck said the move may send a positive message if it means the mayor wants to be closer to executive staff. “If that is at all symbolic of keeping a close relationship between the city manager and the mayor, I’m all for it,” he said.

Hinck said the city budget is tight and costs always need to be considered, but he doesn’t believe he needs to micromanage City Hall and that the cost of the project seems reasonable.

Plans to hire a new assistant to the mayor come with a higher cost and did raise questions, and some objections, when the job was posted last month.

The job, which is to help develop policies, write speeches and connect to community members, was advertised in January with a salary range of $55,000 to $75,000, depending on experience.

That’s around as much as the mayor’s annual salary of $70,000 a year.

The position is being funded through June 30 using savings in the city’s salary budget line and will be included in the next year’s proposed budget.

The city received 57 applications for the job and will begin interviews next week, Grondin said.

Cost of renovating the mayor's office is estimated at $5,000. (Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer)

Cost of renovating the mayor’s office is estimated at $5,000. (Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer) Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer