PORTLAND — The Charter Commission is moving closer to recommending the city have a more powerful, popularly elected mayor.

Commissioners considered a rough draft Nov. 19 that highlights some of the key points the group has discussed and reached consensus on since the panel was elected in June.

The draft, referred to as a “straw-man” proposal, suggests the city should have a popularly elected mayor, elected by a majority of voters. The mayor would serve a three-year term, preside over the City Council and have a vote on the council. The election would be non-partisan.

The draft suggest the mayor replace one of the three existing at-large councilors. The office would be a full-time, salaried job.

Under the current City Charter, the mayor is basically chairman of the council, chosen by councilors for a one-year term.

Besides presiding over the council and assuring policy is implemented through the city manager’s office, the elected mayor would oversee development of the city budget with the city manager. Currently, the manager presents a budget he has created to the council, and that budget is reviewed by the council Finance Committee before going to the full council for approval.

“The council needs a single voice when it comes time to communicate policy to the city manager,” Commissioner Jim Gooch said. 

Commissioner Nathan Smith said the current way the council functions, with councilors going to mid-level staff and “meddling” in day-to-day functions, can get out of control.

“The problem is councilors that think they run everything,” Smith said. “The manager should work with the mayor as a point person.”

While the council would have final say on hiring and firing of the city manager, the mayor would manage the process for recommending hiring or termination. The mayor would also lead the council in regular evaluations of the three employees who are direct hires of the council: the city manager, city clerk and corporation counsel. 

Some commissioners suggested that the mayor oversee hiring and firing of the clerk and counsel, too.

While the straw-man proposal does not suggest a “strong” mayor for Portland, commissioners said having an elected mayor with more power than currently allowed will lead to more vision and more accountability. 

“We need accountability for plans that are approved and then sit on shelves,” Commissioner Naomi Mermin said. 

The commission will continue to discuss the rough draft at its next meeting, and will eventually have city legal staff review and revise the language in the proposal.

Any proposal from the commission – which is working on several amendments to the Charter in addition to the mayoral position – has to go to voters for approval. The commission is aiming to get its recommendations on the November 2010 general election ballot.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]
filed under: