The Portland Charter Commission is drawing closer to finalizing a proposal for one of the key reforms it’s looking at: the balance of power between the elected mayor and appointed city manager.

The commission is approaching a May 9 deadline for a draft report on its recommendations and on Wednesday was presented with two proposals for City Hall leadership. All recommendations the commission arrives at must ultimately be approved by voters to be enacted.

“I think it would be fairly easy for us to vote on and pass the things we agree on,” said Chair Michael Kebede during discussion of leadership models at Wednesday’s meeting. “There is substantial overlap between the two. What about the things that are irreconcilable? The mayor is in the council in one model and the mayor is not in the council in the other. What is done with that?”

The first proposal the commission looked at Wednesday, built off three earlier proposals and coming from Commissioners Marpheen Chann and Robert O’Brien, would make the mayor the chief executive of the city with supervision of the city manager and the ability to implement policies passed by the City Council. The mayor would serve as chair of the council, but would only cast a vote in the event of a tie. The mayor would also present the budget to the council for adoption, but the budget would be drafted by the city manager with input from the mayor about the City Council’s priorities.

An amended version of the proposal, brought forward by Commissioners Catherine Buxton, Patricia Washburn, Kebede and Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, would remove the mayor from the council. The mayor would be the chief executive officer, would supervise a city administrator, implement policy approved by the council, and would also draft and present the annual budget with assistance from the city administrator.

A new position of council president would serve as the official channel for the council to communicate with officials like the city clerk and city attorney about policies and agendas and would develop and propose the council’s rules of procedure.


Neither proposal would give the mayor the authority to unilaterally hire and fire staff, including department heads and the city administrator or city manager.

Mayor Kate Snyder, asked by a reporter about the commission’s deliberations on leadership models Wednesday, said she would be ready to comment when the commission has arrived at a recommendation.

Commissioners, meanwhile, discussed returning next week to take further steps toward finalizing a proposal.

“On things there is perfect overlap on we can just put that to the side if it’s clear we will have majority support,” Kebede said. “On things we don’t have complete overlap on, we can take one by one straw poll votes. We will take whatever has majority agreement from the straw poll vote, throw it into the final plan and take a group vote on that.”

He said the commission could then ask its attorney to draft formal charter language for the commission to vote on. “The sooner we can get to approving charter language, the better it will be for us towards meeting our final deadline,” Kebede said.

The commission also moved forward on three other proposals Wednesday. It voted 8-3 in favor of a proposal to increase the size of the City Council from its current nine-member body to a 12-member body comprised of three at-large seats and 9 district seats. Commissioners Peter Eglinton, Sheikh-Yousef and Dory Waxman voted against the proposal and Commissioner Shay Stewart-Bouley was absent.


And it voted unanimously in support of sending a proposal for participatory budgeting to its attorney to put into formal charter language. The proposal directs the City Council to develop and implement a participatory budgeting system. Participatory budgeting allows residents to directly propose uses of city funds or vote on the use of city funds.

Finally, the commission voted to approve and send to voters a proposal for clean elections, which would establish and fund a mechanism for providing public campaign funds to qualified candidates for elected municipal offices. The proposal was approved unanimously.

The commission must deliver a final report on recommendations to the council by July 11. The recommendations are expected to go to voters in November and must be approved in an election that draws at least 30 percent of the number of city voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial race, or about 11,248 voters.

As of Monday, the commission had spent $37,173 of its $75,000 budget. More than $35,000 of the costs have gone to legal fees for the commission’s attorney, while the remainder of the costs include a New York University Law Review staff writer that the commission’s departments committee hired for administrative assistance and the cost of three speakers the commission hired for a panel last month on leadership models.

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