“The Portland City Council will postpone its vote on the municipal budget, which was scheduled to take place during tonight’s [May 18th] Council meeting at 7:00 PM. […]The Council has decided to postpone given the number of uncertainties around impacts from the state’s budget.”
This press release was sent by the City’s Director of Communications, Jessica Grondin, on the afternoon of May 18th. The West End News received it at 3:21 p.m.
Mayor Mike Brennan was concerned about undecided issues in the State budget that could have dramatic negative impacts on the City’s revenue.
Governor LePage and many Republican lawmakers enjoy beating up on Portland both in rhetoric and policy. Decisions on education and human services could take a big bite out of City receipts from the State.
The Mayor attempted to contact every Councilor to see if they would postpone the budget hearing. He was unable to reach everyone beforehand, but reached enough to know he had the votes, and he moved forward.
He asked the Acting City Manager, Former Police Chief Mike Sauschuck to send the media announcement that the hearing was postponed.
That evening at the Council meeting, Councilors Jill Duson, Jon Hinck, Nick Mavadones, and Ed Suslovic were upset that the decision to postpone was announced to the media before it was decided by the Council.
The Councilors seemed less upset about the postponement itself, then with the Mayor’s unilateral decision. The elected Mayor is a new position with new powers. The Council is still figuring out their relationship to this office.
In the end, the Council voted to postpone the hearing until Monday, June 1st.
The Council did take testimony from the public, out of deference for those few that had attended. Many testified in support of General Assistance for asylum seekers. The State may stop reimbursing General Assistance payments for emergency housing for this immigration category, people who have fled from political violence to seek asylum in America.
Others spoke in favor of funding homeless shelters. The City budget, if passed, would eliminate overflow beds at Preble Street Resource Center and hotel rooms for homeless families with children who cannot find room at the overcrowded family shelter.
There will be testimony again at the public hearing on June 1st.
Did Mayor Brennan overstep by making the announcement before the Council voted to postpone the hearing?
Mayor Brennan stated at the meeting, “It’s very clear that no one can make a decision to postpone an issue that comes before the City Council except the Council itself.”
But is that the case?
The City Charter (view a PDF of Aritlce II Section 5 here) grants the Mayor power to “direct the city manager in the preparation of the council meeting agenda.”
It also states that the Mayor has the power to “facilitate among the city manager, city council, board of public education and the public to secure passage by the city council of the annual city and school budgets.”
In this case, the Mayor, knowingly or not, exercised the position’s power, meager as it is, to set the agenda. Councilors may not be happy, but the Mayor was doing what he could to secure passage of a controversial, and still fluctuating, budget.