Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling gave up his bid to lead the city council’s Finance Committee and proposed a new slate of council committee assignments that councilors endorsed late Wednesday night.

Following a heated two-hour debate on whether he should serve as Finance Committee chair, Strimling proposed at about 11:15 p.m. that he serve as chairman of the Rules and Reports Committee and as a member of the Finance Committee.

Strimling said in a phone call Wednesday night that the changes were accepted without discussion and that the new committee assignments will take affect immediately.

Wednesday’s meeting began with Strimling proposing that he withdraw from consideration as Finance Committee chair, but serve as a member of three council panels.

That proposal drew harsh and at times angry rebukes from councilors, and it was rejected.

Strimling then made his latest proposal after the council voted to approve city pesticide regulations.

The vote followed two weeks of often testy debate over the committee assignments during which two of Strimling’s proposed slates were rejected.

“Right now, I am an outsider looking in. I’ve been in that role for two years,” Strimling told councilors Wednesday. “I’m simply trying to find ways for us to work together. I think the proposal we have before us tonight is a good compromise.”

Strimling has spent much of his two years in office locked in battles with councilors and city administrators about the scope of power of his position, which was designed to have no executive authority over city operations.

His request to chair the Finance Committee – a post that would give him significant influence over budget decisions – renewed tensions in City Hall. Councilors have said giving Strimling leadership of the Finance Committee would amount to a power grab, but he has argued that he was elected to play a greater role in the city’s direction.

The City Charter gives the mayor the power to appoint councilors to committees and nothing expressly prevents the mayor from appointing him or herself to a committee or chairing that committee. But those committee appointments can be overridden by six councilors.

District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray said she does not believe the mayor should serve on any committees but should concentrate on other duties such as representing the city’s interests at the State House.

At large Councilor Jill Duson said she has reservations about the mayor and the manner in which he conducts himself outside council chambers. Strimling made an appearance on WLOB radio after the City Council voted on Dec. 19 to reject his first committee assignment proposal.

During that radio appearance, Strimling railed against the council for “throwing their constituents under the bus and having obstructed and blocked our city government from being able to do the work the people have asked us to do.”

On the radio, Strimling accused the councilors of behaving like children.

At Wednesday’s meeting Strimling told the council, “I think it’s fair to say I was hot. I was frustrated.”

Duson said the mayor’s interactions with local media have made her feel uneasy about appointing him to serve on council committees.

“For me, serving on three committees is too much. I have a problem when some of your tactics go over the edge,” she said.

District 4 Councilor Justin Costa said his fellow councilors get along well, but the mayor’s efforts to insert himself into council affairs and bringing resulting tensions into the public eye have caused councilors to lose trust in the mayor.

“This entire process has been incredibly divisive and unnecessarily so,” Costa said. He said the mayor needs to rebuild the council’s trust. “But, it’s going to take some time.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]