PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — There's a lot of bad blood at Portland City Hall these days, and it was on display at a council chamber meeting Monday night.
Portland has an elected mayor, but administrative power rests with the city manager. Mayor Ethan Strimling says he needs help from city staff to do his job, but City Manager Jon Jennings says neither the mayor nor any counselor can go directly to staff — and he'll resign if councilors decide otherwise.
Little was resolved in a session that dragged on for more than four hours.
"As somebody whose job it is to lead the city, I must have the information I request," Mayor Strimling told city councilors. "You cannot choose what information I get and what information I don't."
"This mayor – unless you agree with him 100 percent of the time – he will keep coming after you," Jennings said. "I would say that most members of this council have experienced this treatment. He will come at you, he will keep coming at you until such time you stop answering."
The tone of a lengthy workshop was both revealing and blunt — Strimling lamenting a lack of communication, and Jennings calling Strimling abusive to city staff.
Strimling says Portland city government is dysfunctional in part because he can't get direct access to staff.
"Everyone should understand this is a new policy," he said. "This policy was not in place when I first started this job. But, unfortunately, it is in place now."
Jennings and Councilor Belinda Ray disputed that interpretation.
"This is the charter. This is the way things work," Ray said. "Request for access to city staff go through the city manager."
Strimling asked that he be able to meet regularly with the city manager, but Jennings was skeptical.
"I keep hearing about, let's meet. Let's just meet twice a week and let's just figure all this stuff out," Jennings said. "I don't know how you can meet with a person who systematically denies everything that had occurred in the past."
There was some agreement that more communication between the manager and mayor could be helpful for city government. "I do think it's important that regular communications occur," said Councilor Spencer Thibodeau. "I think they should occur on a weekly basis, a lot more than I meet with the mayor. I'm not a full-time councilor.
City councilors discussed holding an executive session behind closed doors at some point to go deeper into specific disagreements between Jennings and Strimling.
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