Heath Gorham
Heath Gorham, Portland's interim police chief, hasn't said if he plans to be a candidate for the permanent job. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)
advertisementSmiley face

Portland has issued a request for proposals from firms to help recruit a new police chief.

It is unclear what this means for interim Police Chief Heath Gorham, who took the position last November when Chief Frank Clark abruptly retired for a job in the private sector.

The RFP says the city will take proposals until Sept. 7 and is looking for “experienced search firms to assist in recruiting applicants for the position of Police Chief.”

Proposals will remain sealed until after the deadline.

Gorham has remained mum about whether he would seek the position when his interim status ended. A spokesperson for the Police Department did not respond to questions about Gorham’s future with the department or if Gorham intends to apply for the permanent position.

Gorham, a 20-year veteran of the department who previously was assistant chief, became the fourth head of the department since 2018. In an interview last fall, he said he was taking over a department “in flux” because of the revolving door at the top.

Appointing the police chief is the responsibility of a city manager, and Portland is also operating under an interim manager, Danielle West. Whether she will appoint a new chief isn’t clear.

City Hall spokesperson Jessica Grondin said while West initially said hiring a police chief would be the work of the next manager, “from her perspective that process is taking longer than expected.”

“With several interim department heads, and with this department being one of the largest, (West) felt we needed to get that process going,” Grondin said.

Finding a new manager has been delayed because of the uncertainty about how voters will respond to the recommendations from the Charter Commission this November.

A city panel tasked with hiring the firm to find manager candidates has taken its foot off the gas because a major proposal from the commission would dramatically reduce the manager’s authority, making it more of an administrative position and vesting more power in a stronger, executive mayor.

Since West replaced former Manager Jon Jennings last November the city manager search subcommittee has met fairly regularly, and even assumed the duties of nominating a new city clerk after former Clerk Kathy Jones announced her retirement and retired in July.

Grondin said Portland has had up to 250 job vacancies this year. The manager, corporation counsel, police chief, public works director, and directors of housing and economic development are all interim appointees.

The manager search subcommittee hired the firm Baker Tilly to aid in its search, but it has advised waiting until after the November referendum results are in. Baker Tilly representatives said uncertainty about the manager’s role could substantially limit the pool of applicants.

In the meantime a profile of the manager position is being developed, along with a schedule of visits by Baker Tilly representatives to Portland.

Mayor Kate Snyder told the subcommittee at its Aug. 11 meeting that she wants to “get people thinking.”

“What I feared was if we waited, we may not make the progress we want to make between September and Nov. 9,” Snyder said. “What do we need to do between now and November to help inform a job posting and brochure?”

Art Davis of Baker Tilly said the city’s past experience could inform how the subcommittee goes about this. For example, he said Portland has advertised the economic development director position several times and “received very few qualified applicants.”

Davis said what Portland has going for it is it is a “destination city” both in the Northeast and maybe even nationally.

Snyder said they want to be ready to start the search as soon as the votes are tallied and to begin thinking about stakeholder groups to bring to the discussion.

The subcommittee won’t meet again until after Labor Day.