Portland council takes first steps in search for a new city manager

·3 min read

Sep. 17—The City Council will begin laying groundwork in its search for a new, full-time city manager to replace Jon Jennings, who is leaving Portland in November for a similar job in Clearwater, Florida.

Councilors also met in executive session to discuss appointing an interim manager, but made no announcements afterward.

Mayor Kate Snyder said she would assemble an ad hoc committee of councilors to draft a proposals request for an outside consultant to assist with the search and lay out a process for getting community input.

"I'm confident we will all have that opportunity to shape what community engagement looks like, and what staff engagement looks like, and what the interview panels will look like," Snyder said.

Councilors had been split over whether to begin a search for a permanent city manager with so much uncertainty hanging over the process.

Much of that has been driven by the ongoing review of the city charter. Charter commissioners are considering whether to recommend demoting or eliminating the city manager post and strengthening the elected mayor position, and the council will get three new members in November, with Nicholas Mavodones, Belinda Ray and Spencer Thibodeau not seeking re-election.

Several councilors have said the uncertainty over how the city manager's job might change could limit the applicant pool. But Thursday, councilors expressed unanimous support for conducting a search for a permanent replacement for Jennings without waiting for the Charter Commission to complete its work.

"I think it makes sense to fill this position," said Ray. "If we're not happy with the candidate pool, we go out again."

Several councilors noted the importance of getting community feedback during the search.

"This is the most important decision we may make as the council," Councilor Mark Dion said. "I want to make it in collaboration with our constituents and other groups that have interactions with City Hall."

The council's public workshop session followed an executive session to discuss the possible appointment of an interim manager. But after roughly 35 minutes, they emerged without making any announcement.

After the meeting, Snyder declined to say what was discussed, including how many candidates were under consideration or whether a clear favorite had emerged. She said the council will likely appoint an interim in October so there is overlap with Jennings, whose last day is Nov. 1.

Snyder said a public hearing will precede any council vote on hiring an interim manager.

"We were not making decisions tonight," Snyder said. "I was seeking guidance from the council. This was for us to talk about our options. We will be happy to share the path forward once we have a path forward."

Jennings, who was named Portland's manager in 2015, was expected to leave when his contract expires in July 2022. However, he applied for and was named the new city manager for Clearwater, Florida. The Clearwater City Council approved Jennings' contract Monday morning.

Jennings' contract with Portland requires he give 90 days notice, but he has only given the council about two months, increasing the urgency to find a replacement.

Portland recently hired Anne McGuire as assistant city manager, but she is new to the city, having previously worked in New York. McGuire, who has known Jennings since the 1990s when she was a special presidential assistant for Cabinet affairs under President Bill Clinton and Jennings was a White House fellow, started her new job on Aug. 30.

The city manager reports to the full council and oversees a $268 million municipal budget, including $212 million in general funding spending, and more than 1,400 full time employees.

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