Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said Tuesday he may veto the entire city budget for next year over the elimination of his special assistant position.

“I am seriously considering it. I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Strimling said. “I need to think about what happened last night and understand it.”

Strimling has until the end of Monday to issue a veto. If he does, it would be the first time the power has been used since Portland voters created the elected mayor position in 2010 and granted the new office veto authority over budgets.

It also would be a largely symbolic gesture because the City Council appears to have at least the six votes needed to override a veto.

The council passed the $345 million budget on Monday by an 8-1 vote, with Strimling the only dissenter. The mayor lamented that eliminating the special assistant position “undermines democracy.”

Strimling said he plans to meet with City Manager Jon Jennings and Councilors David Brenerman and Nicholas Mavodones on Friday to discuss “how we go forward and how we make this work.” He said Monday the full-time mayor can’t be effective without the staff support provided by his assistant.

“If I don’t hear a viable plan, that will weigh into my decision about whether I veto the budget,” he said. “I need to have unhindered access to staff who are policy experts.”

Access to city staff has been a source of tension between Strimling and Jennings, who ended a longstanding practice of allowing councilors and the mayor to contact staff members directly to ask questions or request information. Now, requests for information run through Jennings. While councilors seem happy with that arrangement, Strimling has challenged the practice. Several legal opinions have supported the current arrangement.

The vote to eliminate the assistant position came after an emotional and pointed debate about the necessity of the job, which would have cost more than $69,000 next year, before benefits. Several councilors said the position has been controversial among constituents ever since it was created shortly after Strimling was elected. The previous mayor did not have an assistant but was supported by other staff at City Hall.

Councilors were accused on Monday of playing politics with the proposed cut because of policy disagreements with the mayor, but they dismissed that claim.

Strimling made an impassioned plea to councilors to maintain the position, which helps with speechwriting, constituent outreach, policy and budget analysis, and meetings with political groups, saying it was vital to his success as mayor.

Several councilors said they reluctantly supported the position in early 2016, but it was never publicly vetted during a budget process. They said they changed their minds after seeing the position in action for a year.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said the position has only further isolated the mayor from the rest of the council, while Strimling argued that eliminating the position would only deepen the divisions at City Hall.

Councilors Brian Batson and Pious Ali supported keeping the position, but ultimately voted for the amended budget.

The budget veto is one of the few hard powers of the mayor, who is more of a policy leader with no executive authority over city operations. Those duties are performed by the city manager, who reports to the entire council.

According to the Portland City Charter, the mayor would have to notify the other eight members of the council of his budget veto within five business days, or by Monday afternoon. The council would then have to call a meeting and vote on a motion to override the veto. If the council does not get at least six votes to override, it would have to reopen budget discussions in an effort to bridge the impasse. If the council fails to approve a budget by July 1, it would have to pass continuing resolutions to keep the government operating.

A budget veto and protracted battle on the municipal budget would not affect the school department’s $105 million budget and would not prevent the city from paying its bills, according to the charter.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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