Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings will begin weekly meetings in two weeks in an effort to restore communication between the two feuding leaders at City Hall.

The meetings are being scheduled at the direction of the City Council, which held a workshop Monday night to try to resolve the power struggle.

During a four-hour session, councilors overwhelmingly sided with Jennings and blamed Strimling for tensions that have been building for more than a year, but also said they wanted the two to resume regular meetings as requested by Strimling.

“I think it’s definitely a good start,” Strimling said in an interview Tuesday. “It will give us a good opportunity to build the trust we need to build so we can begin to work together.”

The first meeting is expected to happen on Aug. 14 and, at Jennings’ request, will include an additional city administrator – Deputy City Manager Anita LaChance – so that conversations are not mischaracterized by the mayor. The meeting is scheduled for an hour, with no set agenda.

Jennings declined to be interviewed Tuesday, according to City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin.


But on Monday, Jennings said the public discussion at the council workshop was “the most demeaning thing I have done in my professional career.” He said the conflict with the mayor could force him to leave the post – either when his contract expires next year or sooner, if the council directs him to give Strimling unfettered access to staff.

“Tonight I have to tell you I am very distressed, certainly, about my future with the city,” he said.

Jennings also doubted that meeting regularly with the mayor would be productive. “I don’t know how you can meet with a person who systematically denies everything that has happened in the past,” he said.

On Tuesday, Strimling downplayed allegations that he misrepresents other people’s statements or policy positions, saying that can frequently occur among officials. But he said he would be open to discussing specific examples with concerned councilors and Jennings.

“I think that happens all the time in politics,” Strimling said.

Strimling came into Monday’s meeting with four specific requests. In addition to meeting with Jennings, he also asked for the right to speak to department heads.


Councilors agreed the mayor should have equal access to staff, while emphasizing that they, too, must funnel requests through the city manager, who oversees daily operations, including helping to manage staff time.

Strimling said that issue remains unresolved, though he hopes to address it with Jennings when they meet. The mayor failed to convince the council that he was being treated differently by the manager than they were.

“I think we still have some things we need to wrestle to ground to get this to work,” Strimling said. “We still just need to talk through the internal communications to make it efficient and have it work for him and work for me. Maybe we can find some ways to compromise on this.”

Strimling also spent a considerable amount of time on Monday trying to build a consensus that he should be allowed to see substantive press releases before they are issued and be alerted when Grondin receives media inquiries. He also sought additional staffing to help him develop policies, since the council eliminated his assistant position. Both attempts were unsuccessful.

Councilors had hoped that Monday’s meeting would clear the air and ease tensions that have pervaded City Hall for the last 16 months. Jennings accused the mayor of being “abusive” to city staff and of saying that he doesn’t trust staff because “all you do is cover your ass.” City Councilor David Brenerman called on Strimling to “reflect on how you deal with people,” and Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said, “The council is telling you, Mr. Mayor, that you need to get it together.”

On Tuesday, Strimling acknowledged that he can be “energized” when discussing his policy positions, which can cause him to spend more time trying to convince others that he is correct, rather than listening to their ideas or concerns. “I think that was good feedback,” said the mayor, who promised to be the “listener in chief” during his 2015 campaign.


Strimling also said he could do a better job of working with committee chairs, whom he appoints, to help develop policies he would like to put in place.

During his weekly appearance on WGAN radio Tuesday, Strimling repeated his assertion that the tensions in City Hall stem from an unwillingness of staff and councilors to fully accept the charter changes enacted by voters in 2010. Changes included dropping a part-time ceremonial mayor appointed by the council for a one-year term to a full-time mayor elected by residents to serve a four-year term.

But councilors have argued that Strimling is reading more power into his position than is granted by the charter. The council has received two legal opinions that support their interpretation and attempted to resolve the dispute through formal and informal mediation sessions.

The council originally planned on conducting Monday’s meeting in an executive session, which is closed to the public, but reversed course after a lawyer representing the Portland Press Herald objected.

On Monday, councilors agreed to conduct an executive session in the future, so Jennings can detail his staff’s concerns about communicating directly with Strimling.

Grondin said that meeting has not yet been scheduled.


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