City manager: Mayor will be ‘chief lobbyist’

Portland 101
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 26, 2011

The election of a new mayor "is not going to make that much of a difference in the way we operate day to day," city manager Mark Rees told participants in the League of Young Voters' Portland 101 program last week. Rees, who took over for former manager Joe Gray this summer, said he is still learning the ropes. But he noted that having an elected mayor serve as an "advocate for the city" in Augusta and Washington DC will be advantageous — political bigwigs "would much rather talk with an elected official," he said, as opposed to the apolitical manager. He described his position as the city's "CEO," with the mayor as "chief lobbyist."

Another boon of the elected mayor position? The annual "goal-setting session" that is listed among the mayor's powers and duties in the amended city charter — "to discuss and identify the city's . . . priorities in order to provide guidance for the city manager." Meanwhile, the city manager is tasked with preparing a "five-year rolling capital improvement plan" for the city, a/k/a a list of specific priority projects and how much they will cost. This is "standard practice in most well-run municipalities," Rees said.

Under the new manager-mayor relationship, the mayor is able to "consult with and provide guidance" on city budgets, but "it's still the city manager's budget," Rees says. However, don't expect a pissing contest. Rees acknowledged that it is in his "best interest to listen and listen seriously" to the mayor's input.

Speaking of the budget, Rees presented the group (we got to sit in the councilor's seats in city council chambers!) with charts and graphs outlining some of Portland's revenues and expenses. The total city budget is just over $2 million, we learned, with about one-third of that coming from taxes (Rees admitted that our tax rate is high) and the other two-thirds coming from charges for services, grants, and other sources. As proportions of the general fund budget, top expenditures are: debt services, health and human services, employee benefits, public works, the fire department, and the police department.

Portland 101-ers were surprised to learn that the city manages (and pays for) its own golf course (Riverside). Rees was too, when he came on board. To that end, a private company may soon be contracted to run the course. As for other efficiency measures? The precedent-setting relationship between Rees and the elected mayor may dictate those.

  Topics: This Just In , elections, mayor, League of Young Voters,  More more >
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