Portland city manager search committee gets proposals

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PORTLAND — Whichever firm leads the search for a new city manager, it will have the comfort and confidence of the search committee led by Mayor Michael Brennan.

Whether Augusta-based Eaton Peabody or Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, New Hampshire, gets the nod will not be determined for another month, after representatives of both firms made proposals Monday night.

“I was impressed by both presentations, I think we have solid proposals in price range we anticipated,” Brennan said after a 90-minute search committee meeting with Councilors Nick Mavodones Jr., Jill Duson and Ed Suslovic. City Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta and benefits manager Janice Kimball were also on hand.

The committee, mandated by the city charter, will meet again Nov. 24 at 5:30 p.m. and will forward a proposal to the full City Council on Dec. 1, Brennan said.

The proposals were followed by a 25-minute executive session. The committee was ready to take public comment as well, but no members of the public attended the meeting.

Given the presentations, the cost to replace former City Manager Mark Rees could cost as much as $25,000 and take half a year. Rees resigned Sept. 3. Former Deputy City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian was sworn in as acting city manager on Sept. 4.

Both firms are guided by experienced members of municipal government. The Municipal Resource proposal was made by company president Don Jutton, a former manager of New Hampshire towns including Salem, Wakefield, Littleton and Meredith.

The MRI search would be conducted by former Cumberland County manager Carol Granfeld and former city police officer and Windham and Lewiston Police Chief Greg Hanscom.

The Eaton Peabody team consists of former Brunswick Town Manager Don Gerrish and Dick Metivier, a former finance director in Lewiston.

Jutton and Gerrish outlined intensive search procedures that would involve the committee as well as city department heads, municipal union leaders and public meetings.

Both expected a wide response to advertisements. Jutton estimated as many as 70 people might respond to a nationwide search. Portland and the reputation it has built through numerous favorable poll listings for quality of life may make the city an attractive choice for applicants. But the 2011 change in the city charter, creating an elected mayor who splits duties with the city manager, may create some confusion for applicants.

“That will be a challenge for candidates to figure out,” Gerrish.

“Good luck with that,” Brennan quipped.

MRI has suggested a base rate of $15,500 to conduct the search, invoiced throughout the process and containing an 18-month guarantee the new city manager would stay on the job. The guarantee would be voided “wholesale change in the council,” that would prove incompatible.

Not included in the initial fee are a recommended $1,200 for at least 30 days of advertising and a possible $1,500 expense allowance for any candidates coming from a long distance.

Gerrish and Jutton both recommended finalists make family visits to determine the city is a good fit for all.

Eaton Peabody will work to ensure the best possible candidate fit by involving as many people as possible, Gerrish said.

While proposing a base fee of $12,500 for the search, Gerrish said the amount does not include advertising, possible expenses for bringing candidates and their families to Portland, or an executive assessment of finalists done by an outside panel

Gerrish estimated the full search would cost between $20,000 and $25,000.

Eaton Peabody has also hosted public meetings with finalists in other towns, although Gerrish said the gatherings have a tight focus on what the candidate can offer as opposed to past events with different management.

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.