Dear Portland Phoenix,
Zack Barowitz's article ("Conflict By Design: How a Power Struggle Between Mayor and City Manager Was the Plan All Along," in the June 29 issue) about the Charter's role in the ongoing struggles between the mayor and the city manager is interesting and informative. But it tells only half the story of the current mayor.
If Ethan Strimling had done what he said repeatedly during his campaign he was going to do as mayor, I'll bet we wouldn't be having this discussion.
Strimling said he was going to be "the chief listener" in order to bring the city together. He was going to avoid the divisions in the City Council his predecessor Michael Brennan brought about by having his own agenda and by not consulting the City Council before announcing his own initiatives.
Note that the Charter was already in effect and Manager Jon Jennings and his strong leadership style were already ensconced in City Hall. Note, too, that Strimling announced no major personal initiatives during his campaign.
That sounded like the perfect approach for the elected mayor to take under this Charter. Namely: 1) Seek to understand what Councilors want. (They are each little chieftains with their own constituencies and interests). 2) Seek to understand what the City Manager wants, especially since his name is Jon Jennings. 3) Then only initiate things that grow out of the identified overlap of Council/Manager interests. 4) Elsewhere seek consensus where discord looms.
But anyone who knew Ethan knew that his campaign pitch was just that, a salesman's pitch to get the job, after which — who knew? — except that Ethan would strive to use the job to establish himself as the center of City Hall, weak-mayor Charter or no weak-mayor Charter.
So in the few months since, he has established only that he is the most divisive force in City Hall, far beyond the minor fractiousness of his predecessor. He opposes votes by his fellow Councilors weeks after the votes have been made, instead of doing any consultative work before or during the process. He goes to the mat against the Manager even after legal opinions on the Charter side with the Manager.
Why is this a Charter problem? If our Mayor had done what he said during the campaign he was going to do, I bet we wouldn't be having this problem or this discussion.
Peter Monro, 32 May St., Portland
Zack Barowitz responds:
No one would dispute that Mayor Strimling has on several occasions made his life in City Hall more difficult. Both he and Michael Brennan took the position for more than it actually is. However, it does not diminish the fact that the charter created a mayor without creating another branch of government. As a result, the position is at best a misnamed and misfitted City Council Speaker. Mr. Monro makes a fair point that Mayor Strimling may not have lived up to his campaign promises (or lack thereof), but his campaign was no less disingenuous than the campaign to pass the charter which misled the public in the first place. The lessons from all this? Political structures matter. Don't believe everything you hear from a campaign.
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