October 10, 2013

Portland mayor, council have mini-power struggle

Officials disagree on how meeting agendas are set as they define their roles in the era of an elected mayor.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Some Portland city councilors think Mayor Michael Brennan has too much power in setting council meeting agendas, and have complained that their ideas have gone to subcommittees instead. Brennan dismisses the criticism as a non-issue.

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Some Portland city councilors think Mayor Michael Brennan has too much power in setting council meeting agendas. From left: Councilors Cheryl Leeman, Ed Suslovic and Jill Duson.

Related Documents

Read the Portland City Council email exchange

Documents reviewed by the Press Herald show that Brennan first expressed his agenda-setting authority in February, in a memo to councilors.

“Over the past year, several issues have surfaced related to how the council conducts business that I have been asked to clarify,” Brennan wrote.

He told councilors to run agenda requests through him, and called out councilors for leaving the chamber before votes.

The issue arose again in July, when Leeman requested an agenda item relating to fire sprinklers. She wanted the council to direct one of its committees to review residential sprinkler requirements. She says Brennan denied that request and sent the matter straight to committee.

“I just wanted to flag it as a public issue to let people know I was being responsive to a constituent concern,” Leeman said in an interview. “I got an emphatic ‘No.’ ”

A month later, West-Chuhta sent an email to Suslovic outlining her interpretation of the city charter. She noted that the mayor’s power to set the agenda divided the commission that wrote the charter, but was ultimately approved.

At the request of City Manager Mark Rees, West-Chuhta’s memo was sent to all councilors, prompting a response from Duson, who asked that the council discuss the issue.

“I think it would be best if we talked about your request,” Brennan replied in an email to Duson on Aug. 29.

“I quite understand that you may think it best that we talk about this agenda item. However, this is a pretty straightforward division-of-power dispute that needs to be hashed out in the light of day, on the public record,” Duson replied on Aug 30.

On Sept. 4, Duson sent another email to Brennan, thanking him for a “thorough discussion” and reiterating her request to have the council take up the issue.

That prompted an encouraging reply from Leeman: “You go girl!!!” 

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

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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