Portland council has ‘check-in’ with Jennings as he begins final year

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Portland City Manager Jon Jennings, who plans to leave his job when his contract expires next July, received a private, interim performance review last week.

Jennings, City Clerk Katherine Jones, and Danielle West-Chuhta, the city’s top attorney, had mid-year evaluations by the City Council last week in executive sessions, which are commonly and legally used for performance reviews and personnel discussions.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings.

Jennings was last reviewed in October – his first review in three years. He was hired in July 2015, after previously serving as the assistant city manager in South Portland, at an annual salary of just over $148,000 and now earns nearly $170,000.

The council approved his contract extension, which will expire July 12, 2022, last November. Jennings cited the “unprecedented times” facing the city, including the pandemic and how it impacted the city’s financial outlook, as the reason he agreed to his last extension.

Jennings, 58, also came under fire last summer from some Black Lives Matter activists who claimed the city hadn’t done enough to address systemic racism. While it won’t impact his job during this final year, the city’s newly confirmed Charter Commission could propose drastic changes to the role of the manager and popularly elected mayor; most charter commissioners have expressed a desire to reallocate power from the manager to the mayor.

Opponents of Jennings, and of the manager position in general, say the job has too much power and is not fully accountable to city residents.

Mayor Kate Snyder said the closed-door sessions last week weren’t full evaluations, but “mid-year check-ins.” She said after performing the three reviews last fall, extending Jennings’ contract, and adjusting the salaries of Jones and West-Chuhta, councilors and staff decided they didn’t want to go another full calendar year without any kind of review.

Snyder said none of the meetings lasted more than half an hour. While annual evaluations are much more formal, these were an effort to not let a full year go by without taking time to reflect and provide feedback.

“We have to do evaluations annually,” the mayor said. “We, all the councilors, fill out paperwork and compare notes on different aspects of the work and goals. This was not that.”

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