The City Council’s second May meeting once again covered budget items, but also included a well-attended celebration in support of Danielle West’s appointment as City Manager.
General Public Comments
Commencing the meeting just after 5:00 PM, Mayor Snyder opened the floor for general public comment. The first to speak was Tim Bassett of Westbrook over Zoom. Basset expressed concern about the homeless population’s behavior at Whole Foods, alleging it has become unsafe and unsanitary. He suggested the city set up outdoor toilets and safe injection sites, but urged the city to not house these individuals since he believes they are too “unwell.”
George Rheault of Hanover Street spoke next. He first asked about Order 223 and Order 224, looking to clarify whether or not they would be included on the evening’s agenda. Secondly, he urged the city to repurpose the now-empty Oxford Street Shelter to address the expanding homelessness crisis, and criticized the city for not trying harder to do so.
A third comment came in from Vivienda Apollo, alleging that the landlord at 231 State Street, BJB Realty, is in violation of the current rent control ordinance. Apollo has commented on this issue at several City Council meetings in recent months. She, on behalf of a tenants union, has been advocating for the Housing Safety Office to investigate the matter; since no such investigation has occurred, Apollo said, the tenants union brought the issue to the City Manager’s office, but according to the comment, has still not received the requested investigation.
Recognitions and Proclamations
Two recognitions then took place. First, Chelsea Hoskins and the Resettlement Program team were awarded the Community Partners Award from Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, and Mayor Snyder spoke in praise of the “small but mighty team.” Ryan Gorneau, Social Services Program Manager, was honored as Maine Welfare Director of the Year; Mayor Snyder spoke again in praise of the city employee, particularly for his work in administering the General Assistance program.
Proclamations followed. May 21st to May 27th was proclaimed National EMS week, honoring all Emergency Medical Services providers across the City; Snyder commended them for their vital and life-saving work. Snyder then proclaimed May 15th as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and May 14 to May 20 as National Police Week. Councilor Dion made a brief speech on the matter, honoring the 95 officers nationwide who lost their lives on the job in the past year.
Snyder continued with proclamations, proclaiming May 21st to May 27th as National Public Works Week and commending the 148 public works staff in the City for their contributions, specifically naming Mike Murray, Director of Public Works. She also proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month, recognizing the contributions of Jewish Americans to society and acknowledging the threat of rising anti-semitism. May 14th to May 20th was proclaimed Skilled Nursing Week; Snyder made special mention to the Barron Center nursing home for their work. Finally, Councilor Ali read the proclamation to name May as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Marpheen Chann, a prominent Asian-American Portland activist, was present to receive a certificate of the proclamation from Councilor Ali.
Interim City Manager Danielle West then appointed Director of Sustainability Troy Moon as Constable, enabling him to enforce certain aspects of the city code. The appointment passed unanimously.
The Council then moved into appointing Danielle West as City Manager, the culmination of an 18 month long City Manager search following Jon Jennings’ departure. West has served as Interim City Manager for these 18 months, but with the passage of this appointment, moves fully into the role.
Two public comments expressed some skepticism on the matter. Vivienda Apollo spoke again, hoping that the City Manager would be more responsive to the concerns of her tenants union going forward. George Rheault also spoke against it, stating his belief that West is not experienced enough and represents a continuation of Jennings’ legacy.
These comments were somewhat overshadowed by the outpouring of support for West. Former city councilors Belinda Ray, Tae Chong, Justin Costa, Brian Batson, Spencer Thibodeau, and Nick Mavodones, as well as former city staff Mary Costigan and Gary Wood, lined up at the podium to praise the incoming City Manager and share their support for the appointment. During the Council discussion, each Councilor made their own remarks in favor of the appointment as well. Many commended her collaborative nature, her willingness to be vulnerable, and her legal expertise, with multiple people calling her “brilliant.” Councilors spoke to her honesty and integrity; Councilor Phillips also shared that West was the first person to wish her a happy Mother’s Day on Sunday. Councilor Rodriguez suggested implementing metrics to evaluate the City Manager’s performance, as a means of supporting West’s success. The appointment marks the first time that a woman has served as City Manager.
Following the unanimous vote to appoint West, the chamber erupted into applause and a standing ovation.
West then gave an emotional speech, thanking everyone for the support and giving special recognition to her two kids, both in attendance. West recognized that she is the first woman in this role, and “I don’t want to be the last,” she said. “The gravity of this moment is not lost on me.”
A ten-minute break followed before the Council proceeded with the remaining agenda.
Consent Items and Licenses
One consent item was read, for the Pride Portland parade and festival, taking place on Saturday, June 17th. The parade route covers parts of Congress Street, High Street, and Park Avenue, and ends with a festival in Deering Oaks. The item passed unanimously.
Three business licenses were discussed during the licensing portion. The decision on the license for The Thirsty Pig at 37 Exchange Street was postponed until June 22nd. Specifics for the postponement were not given, though an emailed public comment complaining about noise from the restaurant was included in the agenda packet. The business license for The Henry, located at 375 Fore Street, the former home of Bull Feeney’s, passed, though not without comment – George Rheault, West Bayside resident, inquired about the owner’s prior trafficking conviction listed on the application.
Next up was Papi Portland, a Puerto Rican restaurant located at 18 Exchange Street. Councilor Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican, expressed gratitude to the restaurant for making some of his favorite meals available in Maine, something that was not the case when he first moved to the state. The outdoor dining license passed unanimously.
A first read of the municipal budget followed. Snyder led a number of procedural postponements to ensure that all municipal budget items would be voted on at the same City Council meeting on June 5th, during which there will be a second public hearing.
During the public comment period, Dr. Heidi Wierman from Maine Medical Center advocated for the city to put more funding towards the Barron Center, a nursing home in Portland. Per Wierman, the facility is currently at just 40% capacity but cannot accept more patients due to lack of staff funding. Wierman noted that patients who would otherwise go to a nursing home are kept at Maine Medical Center instead, which uses hospital space and resources.
Philip Mathieu, a member of the Rent Board, also made a public comment, supporting the funding of additional staff at the Housing Safety Office included in the budget. He emphasized that proper staffing is especially important in light of possible changes to the rental ordinance, depending on the outcome of the June election.
As this was a first read of the budget, no vote took place.
The school budget came next. Public commenter Ryan McMahon of the East Deering neighborhood expressed support for an amendment to the budget that would put any surplus from the school budget towards individual taxpayer relief. Councilor Dion clarified that although he had at one point proposed such an amendment, he has since withdrawn it. Despite the lack of formal amendment, Dion added that his conversations with the council and school board suggest that there will be support for directing the funds to taxpayers should the situation arise.
George Rheault also commented on the budget, expressing concern that the Council is only engaging with the school budget on an abstract level and not taking a detailed enough look.
Tim Atkinson of Hartley Street made a brief public comment in support of the budget.
The school board budget passed unanimously – it will therefore be on the special election ballot on June 13th at which point voters make the final decision. City Clerk Ashley Rand also conveyed that absentee voting begins Tuesday, May 16th for that election.
One communications item was on the agenda, concerning the removal of the encampment on the Bayside trail. Despite pushback from the public urging the city not to take this action, the city plans to begin removing the encampment on Tuesday, May 16th. The communication on the issue, which can be read in full here, states that the City is making this decision due to “significant health and safety hazards – to campers, the general public, the nearby business community, and City staff.” Councilor Forunier, who is the chair of the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, spoke on the matter. “[T]his doesn’t feel good,” Fournier said, but she emphasized the need to preserve public health and safety.
The final portion of the agenda was Orders; the first, Order 223 – Approving the Agreement with Top Trumps USA for a Portland Monopoly Game, enables the forthcoming Portland Monopoly Game to use city properties on its game board. Specifically, Merrill Auditorium, Riverside Golf Course, and the Eastern Promenade will be included.
Resident Steven Scharf, Brackett Street, commented; he inquired as to whether the city could collect any money from these images and locations being used. Councilor Forunier reiterated his question. Corporation Counsel responded, saying that it is likely too late to renegotiate the agreement. Should the City rescind permission to use these sites, Counsel added, the game would likely proceed without them.
Councilor Zarro suggested that Top Trumps USA provide a complimentary copy of the game to City Hall.
The order passed unanimously.
The final order, Order 224 – Authorizing Amendment to Downtown Transit Oriented Development and Omnibus Tax Increment Financing District to Increase Funding for Creative Portland – was a first read, thus no discussion or vote will take place until the June 5th meeting.
Mayor Snyder adjourned the meeting at 7:55pm.
Erica Snyder-Drummond – Erica is a proud Portland resident, documentary filmmaker, and baker. Previously she has been a campaign canvasser, an immigration advocate, and a server. You can see more of her work at www.ericajsd.com.