PORTLAND — City Manager Mark Rees has chosen a veteran public official from Richmond, Va., to step into a new, powerful position in Maine’s largest city.
As Portland’s first deputy city manager – an influential job that replaces what had previously been two assistant city manager positions – Sheila Hill-Christian would directly oversee a range of the city’s most visible departments: police, fire, health and human services, public services, recreation and facilities management, parking, and the Portland International Jetport.
Hill-Christian, whose nomination to the post must be confirmed by the City Council, becomes the latest new face in a municipal government that has seen a tremendous amount of turnover in the past two years.
Since Rees took the job as city manager in July 2011, Portland has either replaced or hopes to soon hire a new fire chief, police chief, superintendent of schools, mayor, director of planning, attorney and – with the announcement of Hill-Christian’s nomination – deputy city manager.
In Richmond, Hill-Christian heads the Hill-Christian Consulting Group, which works with government and nonprofit agencies. Before founding the consulting group, she held a variety of what a city announcement Friday described as “municipal and quasi-governmental” jobs that show experience with the types of departments she’ll oversee in Portland.
Those jobs include chief administrative officer for the mayor of Richmond; executive director of the Virginia Lottery; executive director of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority; chief operating officer of the GRTC Transit System; director of the city of Richmond’s Juvenile Justice Services and Parks and Recreation departments.
“Sheila will bring extensive municipal experience in a variety of environments, which is ideal for this position, and I am confident that in this new role, she will foster a culture of coordination and innovation by providing support and attention to these critical departments,” Rees said in a statement. “Her commitment to public service and ability to tackle challenging issues in a creative and ingenious manner will serve Portland well in our continued effort to improve the delivery of city services.”
With an annual salary of approximately $125,000, Hill-Christian would become the third highest-paid Portland public official, behind Rees with a budgeted salary of $143,000 and Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk at $137,500.
The deputy city manager position was created during the fiscal year 2013 budget cycle, in which Rees called for Portland’s two assistant city manager positions to be consolidated into a single, more powerful deputy seat.
One of the two assistant city manager positions has been vacant since Patricia Finnegan left Portland to take the Camden town manager post, while the other has been held by Anita LaChance.
City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Friday that with the hiring of a deputy city manager, LaChance will slide into the position of director of Portland’s Recreation and Facilities Department, a job she has been doing from her assistant manager desk for several years.
LaChance will maintain her salary of approximately $96,000 despite the official position change, Clegg said.
While Hill-Christian will take over responsibility for a range of high-profile city departments, Clegg said Rees will maintain direct supervision of many other departments, such as the city’s finance, human resources, economic development and communications offices.
“(Rees felt) the gross number of direct reports made it difficult to supervise and manage the way he wanted to,” Clegg said of the decision to delegate authority to a new position.
With the council’s confirmation still pending, Hill-Christian is prepared to start work in Portland on Feb. 4, according to the city’s announcement.