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Portland Mayor and City Manager Clash at Contentious Council Meeting

Fred Bever
Maine Public
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, right, listens to City Manager Jon Jennings at a City Council meeting Monday night.

The manager of Maine's largest city threatened to resign last night, if his bosses on the Portland City Council gave in to a demand by Mayor Ethan Strimling for direct access to lower-level staff.

At a council meeting, City Manager Jon Jennings said Strimling was looking for more powers than allowed by city charter, which provides for a so-called "weak mayor" system that puts the mayor, in most respects, on equal footing with the rest of the city council.

"You know, there's a lot of focus on this relationship and it's unfortunate," Jennings said. "I find this the most demeaning thing I've ever done in my professional career."

But Strimling said Jennings is trying to keep him from his duties because of ideological differences.

"Our city has too many issues that we need to stay focused on, from our affordable housing crisis to our crumbling schools to the opioid epidemic," he said. "So I ask all of us, and I ask you tonight, Jon, to work with me for the good of Portland and the people across our city."

But Strimling's fellow councilors are siding with the manager, saying Strimling's 18 months of complaint is a distraction from good work that city staff and elected officials are doing.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, once considered a Strimling ally, summed it up this way: "The council is telling you, Mayor Strimling, that you need to get it together. I am just being perfectly blunt: This cannot continue."

The council postponed any action, aside from agreeing that Strimling and Jennings should meet more often, with a third party in the room.