Portland's new city manager says he's ready for challenges

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PORTLAND — Jon Jennings on Monday said crossing the Casco Bay Bridge from South Portland makes him feel like he’s going home.

“I believe passionately in Portland,” Jennings said. “I really feel as though it has been very good to me personally and professionally.”

Jennings was confirmed Monday night as the new city manager by a unanimous City Council vote. The current assistant city manager and director of economic development in South Portland will start his new job July 13.

“We need him at this particular time in this city’s history,” Mayor Michael Brennan said Monday. Several councilors praised Jennings’ varied and extensive experience in the public and private sectors.

His public sector resume includes work at the White House during the Clinton Administration, at the U.S. Department of Justice and as director of state operations for former U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, who is now U.S. secretary of state.

A co-founder of the Maine Red Claws basketball team and once a scout, assistant coach and director of basketball development for the Boston Celtics, Jennings signed a three-year contract with a base salary of $148,000.

He replaces Mark Rees, who resigned Sept. 3, 2014.

Rees was followed by acting city managers Sheila Hill-Christian and Michael Sauschuck. Hill-Christian resigned May 8 to become assistant city manager in Cincinnati; Sauschuck will return to his post as police chief.

Jennings said he is ready for the entire management experience.

“I’ve described it as taking a drink from the fire hose, but that excites me,” he said.

Jennings was also initially involved in the $100 million development of Thompson’s Point, a mixed-use project of housing, hotels, offices and an arena on land between the Fore River and Interstate 295.

“I do think I bring a different perspective because of my experience,” he said.

Jennings joined the city of South Portland in spring 2013, after serving on the Cumberland Town Council. He said working with South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey prepared him to become Portland’s city manager.

“Jim has been a great mentor in teaching me about municipal government, particularly the budget,”Jennings said. “I learned a great deal about the effect municipal government can have on the lives or ordinary people.”

Gailey said Jennings played a key role in economic development in South Portland.

“His work with small and medium-size businesses who were looking at relocating or starting up in South Portland has brought a sense of vibrancy to many of our neighborhood commercial corridors,” Gailey said in a June 12 email.

Jennings said selling the South Portland Armory and strengthening that city’s energy sustainability emphasis with electric vehicles and development of a solar energy “farm” in Thornton Heights are achievements he enjoyed.

He said he is looking forward to working with city staff in Portland, which has seen considerable turnover in the last year: Health and Human Services, Human Resources, and Finance department heads, plus a senior planner, have or will be leaving.

“I have worked with the mayor and know many of the city councilors personally,” Jennings said. “It gives me an opportunity to work with them from the get-go. I see myself as being a very visible city manager. I plan to be out anytime someone wants to invite me to something.”

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

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Jon Jennings

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.