Portland City Council moving ahead with search for new city manager

Nov. 10—Portland city councilors are moving ahead with the search for a new city manager after this week's election confirmed that the structure of city government will stay the same.

"We've grappled with the question of what to do with the vacated city manager position," said Mayor Kate Snyder during the council's city manager search subcommittee meeting Thursday. "We knew we had an interim city manager coming into place, but we didn't know what the path would look like until voters had their say on charter commission proposals."

On Tuesday, voters rejected the Charter Commission's proposal to strengthen the job of the mayor and replace the city manager with a new chief administrator with less authority.

"I think we have a clearer path now with regards to the will of the voters," Snyder said.

Now, the city is preparing to advertise for a new city manager, a position that has been vacant for a year.

Members of the subcommittee, which includes Snyder as well as Councilors April Fournier, Mark Dion and Pious Ali, talked Thursday about what the first phase of the search will look like. That work includes identifying stakeholders who could provide input on the job posting, description and a recruitment brochure.

Councilors have already started developing that list, which includes the faith community, immigrant groups, education leaders, housing developers and the business community.

They also talked about the timeline for their search and a target date for posting the job, which could be in early spring. Dion said he would like to see it advertised by March 1, which he said would give the group time to gather feedback and come up with a final posting.

"I think in my mind, at this juncture, being intentional surpasses this idea of speed," Dion said, though he added he is open to an earlier deadline.

Snyder said she would like to see the job posted "as soon as possible" but still give councilors time to gather feedback. She suggested Feb. 1, noting the upcoming holidays.

"I definitely heard during this last campaign cycle that the council doesn't move fast enough," Snyder said. "So part of me says, 'Let's not slow walk this too much.' Right now we're just talking about the job posting, not the interviews."

Snyder asked Art Davis, a representative of the search firm Baker Tilly, which is working with the city, if he could come up with a proposed timeline and also bring the committee more information about survey tools that could be used to gather feedback. The committee is expected to discuss those items next week.

Davis said that setting a timeline for the job posting will help the committee get it done, and the timeline can always be adjusted. "If the full council wants the opportunity for more deliberation or input before finalizing the profile and brochure, we can always accommodate that," Davis said.

The city manager is the top non-elected position in Portland city government, reporting to the City Council and responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city. The manager prepares and presents the annual budget and capital improvement plans, appoints department heads and implements the council's policy decisions.

The job has been open since November 2021, when former City Manager Jon Jennings left for a similar job in Clearwater, Florida, and is currently being filled by interim City Manager Danielle West, who earns a salary of $186,511. West previously served as the city's corporation counsel.

She said earlier this week that she hasn't decided if she's interested in the permanent job.

"I'm still trying to get my feet under me after last night," West said Wednesday, a day after the election. "I'm evaluating all of my options and am very interested in continuing my work with the city, but I haven't made any final decisions."