Portland city manager search may have to wait for Charter Commission

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A City Council subcommittee charged with finding a search firm for the next city manager has acknowledged that the Charter Commission’s ongoing work, including a proposal that could shift some of the manager’s authority to a stronger executive mayor, may require a pause in the search until after November.

Despite that, the panel narrowed its choice to two firms from a pool of five applicants.

Portland City Hall

The search is also compounded by apparent difficulty finding qualified applicants for the soon-to-be-vacated city clerk job. The city is posting the opening for a second time, after receiving just under a dozen initial applications, none of whom had the necessary experience.

The city manager search subcommittee – chaired by Mayor Kate Snyder and including Councilors Pious Ali, Mark Dion, and April Fournier – hopes to meet with principals from the two search firm contenders on April 28 to discuss the challenges presented by what the Charter Commission may propose.

The firms are GovHR and Baker Tilly US, which were neck-and-neck in scoring. The other three firms that responded to a request for proposals – TransPro, Inclusion Maine, and USPRO – each scored much lower.

GovHR, based in Northbrook, Illinois, had the highest score and was also the least expensive at $23,500; Baker Tilly, based in Chicago, had the second-lowest bid at $26,500.

Snyder said April 28 may not give the firms enough time to prepare presentations for an issue about which they are not fully versed. Also, Fournier and Ali will both be traveling on April 28, so they have shifted the meetings to the afternoon from the usual 8 a.m time slot, assuming the two firms can meet.

Dion said it is important to have this meeting to see how the firms respond to Portland’s “unique situation:” the Charter Commission must send its proposals to voters via referendum in November and will almost certainly include a reshaping of the manager’s role as a more administrative, less policy-focused chief operating officer.

“I focus on we’re trying to find the best possible candidate for manager in this context,” he said. “I would like their insight as an outside, third party for this problem.”

City staff will provide information about the potential change to the two firms ahead of time, so each will be prepared to give a one-hour presentation to the subcommittee if the April 28 meeting is possible.

Snyder said it is important to hear the firms discuss how the city should conduct this work between June and November before the results of the referendum are known. She said the firm they ultimately choose will have the preliminary and final reports from the Charter Commission this summer.

“We have a job description in the charter, so we won’t assume there is a change until there is a change,” Snyder said.

This search is to replace former City Manager Jon Jennings, who resigned last November to become the manager in Clearwater, Florida. Since then, the city’s top attorney, Danielle West, has been serving as interim city manager.

Snyder said West’s contract is open-ended unless she resigns or the City Council appoints a new permanent manager. Jennings last earned just under $180,000 annually as city manager; West is making just over $181,000.

The council subcommittee has also been overseeing the search to replace retiring City Clerk Kathy Jones. City staff told the panel there were 11 applicants, but none had the proper experience. The city will post the job again until May 13.

Jones, who will retire this summer, is currently making over $105,000 annually.