Portland begins search for new city manager, role may be reduced

It’s been more than four months since former Portland City Manager Jon Jennings left for Florida, and filling the position could help the city as it approaches the next budget cycle and it continues to navigate the pandemic. and to respond to an influx of asylum seekers in need of accommodation. .

City councilors begin whittling down a list of search firms to help them find Jennings’ replacement. The city manager search subcommittee is reviewing proposals from five companies and met Thursday to discuss next steps.

The hope is to conduct a broad search, Mayor Kate Snyder said.

“It’s going to be nationwide and it’s going to take a lot of input from council, community and city staff,” Snyder said. “We want to do it well and in the most thoughtful way possible.”

The research comes at a delicate time, however, as an elected committee examining the power structure at city hall is considering changes to the city manager’s roles and responsibilities that could significantly weaken the authority of the position.

The Portland Charter Commission is expected to finalize its recommendations by July with the aim of submitting them to voters in November.

The commission is reviewing a handful of proposed structural changes to city leadership, including a this would create a strong executive mayor and eliminate the city manager, but create a new “city administrator” who would oversee day-to-day operations. Another proposalpresented to the commission on Wednesday, shifts the preparation of the city’s budget from the city manager to the mayor and removes the power to appoint department heads from the city manager, placing it instead in the hands of a committee likely to consist of the mayor, or a person appointed by the mayor and the members of the municipal council.

Snyder said the charter commission’s work will provide important context for the research and the council discussed it before initiating the research.

“Some people said, ‘Let’s not do this at all and we’ll just wait until the charter commission has finished its job and voters have had their say,'” she said in an interview afterward. Thursday’s meeting. “Other people, and obviously a majority of the council, said, ‘No, we can’t suspend everything for a year. At the end of the day, we think we need some sort of city management – so we need to get the ball rolling.

The research process could take a long time, Snyder said. But even if concern over the charter commission prevents top candidates from applying, at least the city can advertise the position and get feedback as soon as possible.


“If we have to go back (and look for candidates) because of what’s going on with the charter commission or the community vote, we’ll at least have laid all of those foundations,” Snyder said.

Councilor Pious Ali, who is a member of the search sub-committee, said it was right for the city to continue the search while the charter commission does its job.

“The people who will apply to be city manager are professionals – and I hope whoever applies will have the ability to operate in whatever structure the charter commission puts in place,” Ali said. “I don’t think there’s a reason for them to worry or for people not to apply.”

A charter commissioner, Marpheen Chann, who worked on the proposal presented to the commission on Wednesday, is optimistic that the commission will retain a city manager or administrator at the helm. “I think it’s a good idea to keep some sort of consistency…but I think they need to be honest with any candidate for city management that we have a charter commission and things could change, so (they should) be aware of that,” Chann mentioned.

Danielle West, the city’s senior attorney, has served as acting city manager since October. She managed to keep the city running smoothly, Snyder said.

“If you have someone coming in as a temp or a brand new recruit, let’s say a brand new recruit coming in from Minnesota, it would take them some time to get to know everyone, get to know the community and the issues “, said the mayor said. “Danielle…knows the story. She knows the players. She knows the city staff. It’s really not a situation where things have stopped. »


West was in a meeting Thursday afternoon and was unavailable to answer a question about his interest in the permanent job, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.

She has some time to think. The subcommittee plans to review and score submissions from each of the five companies and will meet later this month before deciding which companies to interview. The full board will be invited to attend and participate in interviews and then vote for a recommended research firm. The city hopes to choose a company by May 17.

Snyder and Ali said the search firm will play a key role in helping the city define the characteristics it is looking for in a new city manager. “Some of the abilities and strengths and experience that we’re looking for, those are the things that we’re going to want to get a lot of information on in order to finalize a new job description,” Snyder said.

Ali would like a city manager who appreciates the city’s growing diversity, is able to work with council to translate policy into action, and will ensure opportunities are shared equitably across the city. Above all, he said, he wants to see a city manager who responds to the needs expressed by residents and city stakeholders during the research process.

“It doesn’t matter what I want to see on its own,” Ali said. “I think what the town and community members and all stakeholders want is what I want. I will gladly accept any feedback I receive from the community at large.

The groundwork for the search was laid in September, when Jennings was hired as the next city manager of Clearwater, Florida. The following month, Snyder named the subcommittee, which also includes advisers April Fournier and Mark Dion. In January, the city issued a request for proposals, which produced the five recruiting firms currently in the running.


Cost estimates for the research range from $23,500 to $52,500. One recruitment company, Inclusion Maine, is local. The others come from out of state. Auburn-based Inclusion Maine said it could complete the $38,000 search and complete the search process by September 30 if it begins March 1.

Boston-based USPRO said it could do the research for $52,500; TransPro, Florida, for $30,000; GovHR, in Northbrook, Illinois, for $23,500; and Chicago-headquartered Baker Tilly for $26,500.

At Thursday’s meeting, Fournier said she liked Inclusion Maine’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, but she could also see benefit in having an outside perspective. “We wanted to open it up as a national search, so I think that’s also important,” she said.

Dion indicated a preference for Baker Tilly and GovHR because he said they had the most relevant experience. “I looked at the money, but I also looked… do they hire town and city managers?” said Dio. “I think it’s important. It is a unique position.

Ali also indicated his support for Baker Tilly or GovHR. “I think the first two have deep hiring experience and they’ve listed tons and tons of actual hires they’ve done elsewhere,” he said.

Snyder said she was interested in Inclusion Maine’s response, but thought it might be “too local.”

“It made me wonder if they would have the reach or access that we would get from a more national company with perhaps a longer experience and deeper roots,” she said.

She will carefully study other proposals. “GovHR and Baker Tilly were the two I was most interested in, but of course we’ll dig deeper when we do our score and come back together and see where we land,” Snyder said.

The position of city manager is one of 235 vacancies in city administration. The positions of city manager, city clerk and city attorney are all appointed by the council while the city manager – at least for now – appoints and manages all other department heads.

Jennings, who was named city manager in 2015, was earning a salary of $181,079 when he left.

The city clerk position will open in July when the current city clerk retires, and deputy director of human resources Tom Caiazzo told the subcommittee on Thursday that the position had been posted. The city also needs to hire a new police chief, but Grondin said West decided to wait to let the new city manager make that appointment.

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