Panel sets July 2015 target for hiring Portland's next city manager

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PORTLAND — The goal of the committee tasked to replace departed City Manager Mark Rees is to have a successor on the job by July 1, 2015.

The committee, led by Mayor Michael Brennan, met for the first time in a 75-minute session Monday, where they also decided a consultant will be needed for the selection process.

Brennan is joined by Councilors Nick Mavodones Jr., Jill Duson and Ed Suslovic, but made it clear those will not be the only voices heard in the search.

“We do intend to have significant staff participation and staff input in the process,” he said.

The search has also drawn interest from the Maine Municipal Association, the law firm of Eaton Peabody, and Meredith, New Hampshire-based consultants Municipal Resources. All three have indicated interest in conducting the search to replace Rees, who resigned Sept. 3 after three years in office. His former deputy, Sheila Hill-Christian, was named acting city manager and sworn in Sept. 4.

The search committee is required by the City Charter. In its initial meeting, the panel did not go into detail about who might be an ideal candidate, although Duson and Brennan expressed confidence in Hill-Christian’s abilities.

During public comments, Holm Avenue resident Robert Hains suggested Hill-Christian be allowed more time on the job to determine if a search is even needed.

“I think you are going through an exercise that is unnecessary and will be somewhat expensive,” he said.

Duson said more discussion about Hill-Christian would be better suited for executive session, but the committee agreed it would be open to more public comments while reserving the right to have private discussions.

The immediate plan is to invite the three firms that have already shown interest to submit formal proposals to lead a candidate search, along with Plymouth, Massachusetts,-based Bennett Yarger Associates, a firm that was considered during the search that led to Rees’ hiring.

The firms will be asked to attend an Oct. 27 meeting at 5:30 p.m. to make 15-minute presentations about what they could offer the committee. It is possible one or two more firms will be invited to submit proposals.

The desire for a search firm was unanimous among the committee members.

“My sense is we should engage a consultant, one that has a good understanding of Maine and New England,” Mavodones said.

Details on how to go about the search and what the pay scale should be will be determined after a consultant is hired.

Mavodones initially suggested getting a city manager on the job by the end of the year, but the committee agreed it best to wait until the city’s fiscal 2016 budget is complete.

“I think there is some merit to getting through the budget process and maintaining some stability in the organization,” Mavodones said. “I am comfortable letting this go longer than I initially thought.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.