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Former Portland mayors oppose strengthening the office of mayor

Maine Daily Life Daylight Savings
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
The skyline of Portland, Maine, catches the early morning sunlight, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

A group of former Portland mayors is pushing back against proposed changes to the city charter that would give more power to the position of mayor.

Fifteen former mayors signed a letter to the Portland Charter Commission urging it to scale back the proposal, which would make the mayor the chief executive officer of the city. A city manager position would be replaced by a "chief operating officer" who would be nominated by the mayor, manage day-to-day operations and prepare budgets at the mayor's direction.

In a letter to the commission, the mayors say that the plan "places too much power in one person" and would politicize the management of the city.

"It just takes us back to an old system of patronage and privilege and power in the hands of a single elected individual," said Jill Duson, who was appointed as the city's mayor for two terms.

But Commission Chair Michael Kebede said that he believes the mayor in the proposed system would have less power than the current city manager, and won't have veto power over legislation nor the power to unilaterally fire people. And Kebede said importantly, the mayor will be elected by voters.

"And I personally think that's an improvement," Kebede said. "I think that's a step forward for democracy and accountability and transparency."

The commission is expected to vote on final language for the proposal at a meeting Wednesday evening. Any changes would need to eventually be approved by Portland voters.