A small group of Portland residents is offering to raise money to fund the special assistant to the mayor after it was eliminated from the budget by the City Council. But the city manager says that the effort would likely be rebuffed, since the council has already deemed the position to be unnecessary.

Peaks Island resident Timmi Sellers asked the city in a May 18 email how residents could earmark a donation to pay for Jason Shedlock’s salary, which would have been roughly $69,000 next year.

Sellers, who was impressed that Mayor Ethan Strimling and Shedlock recently attended a meeting on Peaks Island to hear concerns about the loss of mainland parking, said in an interview that she was moved to act after watching the emotional debate leading up to the City Council’s May 15 vote.

“I was pretty shocked at the viciousness of the personal attacks on the mayor after he explained very carefully why the position was so important to him,” she said. “I had voted for the mayor’s position and I want it to be successful. I consider one year a short time for this to be evaluated.”

Sellers said she and a few other neighborhood leaders, who she declined to identify, were interested in raising money, but wanted to first check with the city about the legality before launching the effort.

Residents are allowed make donations to the city. According to the City Council’s rules, donations in excess of $5,000 must be accepted and appropriated by the council, which voted 6-3 to eliminate the position, partly because it was unpopular with their constituents.

“The Council’s decision to eliminate the funding for the position was not because the City could not afford it, but because they felt that the position was redundant and no longer necessary in its current capacity,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in an email to Sellers. “Given their decision above, it does not seem likely to me that they would accept a donation for this purpose, and I take my direction from them.”

After receiving the city’s response, Sellers said Wednesday she would be meeting with family, friends and some neighborhood organizations next week to figure out their next steps.

“I think in some format we will be moving forward. In some way we will be trying to assist in the healing of our dysfunctional government,” Sellers said. “I don’t know if raising money and forcing the City Council to look at this again will be helpful and I want to be helpful.”

The elimination of the mayor’s assistant marked what may be a new low in the relationship between the council and Strimling, who said the cut “undermines democracy” by hindering his ability to respond to constituents and draft new city policies, among other tasks.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said the position had prevented Strimling from collaborating with councilors, whose support is needed to enact his initiatives. But Strimling said eliminating the position would only “make it worse.”

The idea of eliminating the position emerged late in the budget process. Strimling considered vetoing the entire $240 million city budget over the position but announced Monday that he would not do so, because it would foster “political maneuvering, grandstanding and infighting and will only serve to further divide our city.”

Instead, Strimling called on the council to form a task force to review the City Charter and offer recommendations about ways to make the mayor’s office more effective. That idea was immediately shot down by some councilors, who noted that the city has had two legal reviews of the charter, including one that cost nearly $22,000, explaining the mayor’s role.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @randybillings

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