UPDATE: Interim replacement expected next month for retiring Portland city manager

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PORTLAND — The City Council is likely to appoint an interim city manger in January to serve until a permanent replacement for Joseph E. Gray Jr. can be found.

Gray announced his retirement on Dec. 21 before a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall.

Mayor Nicholas Mavadones on Monday said he expects the city will hire a private consulting firm to help conduct a national search for a new manager.

Mavodones said an interim appointment will be made in January to serve until a permanent replacement is brought on, most likely next July.

“I don’t anticipate us going outside the city structure to look for (an interim manager),” Mavodones said. “We have a lot of competent folks at City Hall. That’s a decision we will try to have at our first meeting in January, so Joe can work with whoever it is on transition issues.”

Mavodones said community input about attributes residents would like the manager to have will be sought early in the process and again later when semifinalists are identified.

Gray, 66, said he is leaving the post he has held for 10 years in February to pursue “other opportunities.”

He spoke in the State of Maine Room, where his employment with the city began as young city planner more than 40 years ago.

“At that time, I expected to stay for a few years, build a resume and move on to the bright lights of a larger community,” he said. “Little did I expect that day so many years ago, that I would become city manager and, for my family and me, Portland would become our bright lights.”

Gray noted he was only the 11th city manager since the post was created in the 1920s. Over the course of the last decade, he said, he has worked with about 60 different city councilors.

Last week, Mavodones complimented Gray’s management style, which he said struck the right balance between being introverted and seeking the limelight. 

Mavodones wished Gray and his wife, Marie, the best in their respective retirements.

“Of course, I mean retirement in the loosest sense of the word,” he said, alluding to Gray’s grandchild. “Because I doubt there will be very much down time in the Gray household.”

Gray’s retirement resonated in Washington, D.C., where U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, issued a statement.

“I have enjoyed working with Joe on important projects over the years ranging from the FEMA flood map situation to the Ocean Gateway project,” Collins said. “Joe is a dedicated public servant who always put the interests of the citizens of Portland first. His leadership and vision will be missed.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, noted Gray’s committment to public service.

“I am extremely grateful for the contributions he has made to shape a vibrant, diverse, livable city that has earned a national reputation as one of the best places to live and work,” Pingree said in a prepared statement.

Gray began working as a city planner for the Model Cities program in 1969. He has held posts as deputy director of the Portland Renewal Authority and the director of Urban and Planning Development.

“As both city manager and planning director, I have had the rare privilege of implementing plans that I helped initiate,” he said.

Gray noted several accomplishments during his tenure, including Ocean Gateway, the co-called mega-berth and Portland Jetport expansion.

The city’s focus on economic development and downtown revitalization garnered local and national attention for its livability and quality of life, he said.

But one of greatest sources of pride, Gray said, was implementing a vision outlined in the Shoreway Access Plan, which created more than 50 miles of trails from the Eastern Promenade to the Presumpcot River.

“The changes these trails have brought to these neighborhoods and the community as a whole have exceeded my hopes,” he said. “It certainly was a highlight of my career.”

Mavodones also credited Gray for leading efforts to redevelop the Eastern Waterfront and the Bayside neighborhood.

City employees, councilors past and present, business officials and members of the press in the room responded with laughter and applause when Gray said what he would miss most about being manager.

“Truly, it’s not having to decide whether or not to call a snow storm parking ban,” he said.

Gray credited elected leaders, city department heads and citizens who have volunteered to serve on boards and committees for improving the quality of life in Portland.

He described the last three years as a “Great Recession” that has put a strain on city resources. But he applauded efforts by everyone to maintain core services and limit tax increases on residents and businesses, while maintaining a safety net for the needy.

Mavodones noted Gray’s fiscal acumen during “extremely difficult budget times.”

“As we weathered this storm, it has been a comfort to know Joe is at the helm,” he said.

Gray, who choked back emotion as the crowd honored him with a standing ovation, said his last day will be Feb. 11, 2011.

“I intend to buy some lottery tickets with those numbers,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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Portland City Manager Joseph Gray Jr.

Portland City Manager Joseph Gray Jr. announced his retirement on Tuesday at City Hall.