PORTLAND — Three months into his tenure, City Manager Jon Jennings is at the helm of change in city government.
He expects there will be more.
“I was very direct, very honest with the (City Council),” he said Oct. 21. “If they were not interested in a strong city manager, I was not the candidate.”
Since his appointment in July, Department of Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky, Equal Opportunity & Multicultural Affairs Director Rachel Talbot Ross and Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria have each announced their resignations.
Bobinsky and Talbot Ross are on leave through mid-November and mid-December, respectively. LaMoria served his last day Oct. 20.
Jennings declined comment on the departures, except to thank all three for their dedication and service.
Bobinsky and LaMoria each expressed a desire to move on when announcing their departures.
Records obtained through a Freedom of Access Act request show the city requested an “employment law investigation” into a possible confrontation Talbot Ross had with Unified Parking Partners employees Andy Martin and Shannon Farrell in August.
Talbot Ross was placed on paid leave Aug. 27, and her resignation letter was accepted Oct. 7. The investigation cost the city $6,100.
Assistant Fire Chief David Jackson is now acting fire chief, and Bob Leeman and Steve Earley are leading the DPS. Jennings and Human Resources Director Gina Tapp are handling Talbot Ross’ duties.
Jennings said the he expects to post ads for a DPS director next month and for fire chief early in 2016. He is still considering how to fill the civil rights post.
“I believe it is a vital position for the city, I see it as a full-time position, but how it is structured is another question,” he said.
The search to replace Bobinsky and LaMoria will be done in-house, he said.
“We will not be using consultants. I don’t believe in that,” he said. “I believe in our HR staff and don’t want to spend the money.”
Jennings said he is ready to move ahead, and will be keying in on making city services more efficient in a variety of ways.
“It is natural for change to happen and change is good,” Jennings said.
Finding ways to improve city technology systems, pave potholes or reduce waiting times for permits are all in Jennings’ sights.
“We need to refocus on what we do on the core functions, about what government should be about, and doing it with excellence,” Jennings said.
The permit process may soon be streamlined, he said.
“I am looking at completely different ways of organizing those functions, a one-stop shop and a prioritization model,” he said.
Potential changes to the city’s solid waste collection were presented to the City Council Finance Department, although he acknowledged the discussion did not start with him.
The changes could be as minimal as replacing collection bins for ones with covers, or could be modeled on methods used in neighboring communities.
In promoting a practical approach, Jennings said the city has in the past “over-promised and under-delivered in some areas.”
This includes taskforces that have looked at changes to Franklin, High and State streets while the city lacks funds to pay for them.
“I think we have to take each endeavor as it comes. The underlying premise is, can you pay for it,” he said. “The financial ramifications of every decision we make is important.”
Jennings is pushing to get work on Forest Avenue near Woodford’s Corner moving forward, although the city and state Department of Transportation have not agreed on how to pay for alterations to the railroad crossing just beyond Ocean Avenue.
“Woodford’s Corner is a great example of where the city should be investing in infrastructure,” he said. “It is time and past time the city looked at it.”