Tensions between Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and city councilors spilled over Monday night, this time stemming from a seemingly innocuous policy referral to a subcommittee.

Last week, Strimling announced his intent to propose doubling the number of affordable housing units required in certain developments, and lowering the prices of those units.

But on Monday, councilors took great pains to note that the council’s Housing Committee already had planned to have a discussion about the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance in October and that Strimling had raised the issue in January.

City Councilor Jill Duson, who chairs the committee, said the mayor put an undue burden on city staff members by asking them to help draft his referral now, rather than in October. She also worried that referring a specific proposal was an attempt to “put a thumb” on the scale.

“I think this is an important process issue,” Duson said. “I raise this because I think it’s important in terms of how you manage your own committees going forward and how work comes to your committee.”

The latest dust-up comes a week before councilors, Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings are scheduled to talk about how staff time is allocated to the mayor and the councilors. That discussion also is expected to touch on the working relationship between Jennings and Strimling.

Currently, Strimling must go through Jennings before talking to staff. Strimling has said Jennings is unresponsive to his requests, based on ideological differences, something Jennings has strongly denied.

Strimling issued a statement about his affordable housing proposal last week.

On Monday, he argued the referral is a way for the public to know what the council is considering doing.

“One way to have an impact is referring to committees,” said Strimling, who has been frustrated with his limited powers as mayor. “I think it’s important that the public is aware of that language.”

Strimling also dismissed the notion that a council referral tipped the scales or biased the committee’s discussion.

But City Councilor Justin Costa suggested the referral was being perceived by his colleagues as serving a political, rather than practical, purpose. Such referrals are designed for items that are not already on a committee work plan.

Costa said other councilors saw Strimling’s referral as an attempt to claim “public-facing credit” for a topic that was already on the council’s radar.

“That’s clearly what’s going on here,” Costa said. “I hope we can get past that.”

The council voted 6-3 to refer the policy to the committee. Councilors Brian Batson, Belinda Ray and Duson opposed it based on objections to the process, not on the content of the amendment.

Bayside resident George Rheault blasted the council for the discussion.

“This is just pettiness,” Rheault said. “You could have just humored the mayor. … Instead you had to grandstand about him grandstanding. Congratulations.”

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

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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