As the end of his three-year contract comes near, Portland City Manager Mark Rees has been offered only a one-year extension by the City Council.

Rees, who was hired in May 2011, said he is pleased with the offer but he always envisioned a longer-term commitment.

“We set some common goals we wanted to achieve and I think they would like to see progress,” Rees said.

Rees is Portland’s first city manager to have a formal employment contract, and the first to work under the city charter that established an elected mayor. Before the charter change, a manager’s salary and benefits were set annually by the council.

Portland’s elected mayor is a weak position. Executive power still resides with the city manager. But the mayor has a full-time, salaried position, which includes an office in City Hall that is only a few doors away from the manager’s.

The transition under the new charter has been rocky. The relationship between the council and Mayor Michael Brennan has appeared testy at times, and councilors have complained privately about a lack of communication from Rees.

When the Portland Fire Department’s fireboat ran aground in Casco Bay in 2011, councilors complained publicly that they were not immediately informed by Rees, who later apologized.

This year, the council reasserted its right to direct the manager to put items on meeting agendas, after Brennan asserted that only he had that power.

Brennan said the council decided to offer Rees a one-year contract extension after a closed-door meeting and an evaluation of his performance.

“The council was comfortable doing a one-year extension,” Brennan said. “It is what it is.”

Stephen Langsdorf, an attorney with expertise in municipal law, said it is “difficult to read the tea leaves” of the contract offer.

He said most municipalities like to have multi-year contracts with their managers and often renew their agreements two years into three-year contracts. However, some municipalities that are happy with their managers stick with one-year agreements, especially if tight budgets make it difficult to meet salary expectations, he said.

The Portland Board of Public Education voted last month to extend Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk’s contract by a year, even though it was not set to expire until June 2015. The district made the announcement in a press release with glowing praise for Caulk, who was hired in 2012.

City councilors were reluctant to say whether they are happy with Rees’ performance and why they offered him a one-year contract extension, citing confidentiality.

Councilors John Coyne and Kevin Donoghue echoed Rees’ statement that the council wants him to achieve the council’s goals.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman said she prefers shorter-term contracts with city managers. “I think it keeps their feet to the fire and keeps them accountable,” she said.

Councilors Nicholas Mavodones, Jill Duson, David Marshall and Edward Suslovic, who was in Russia, could not be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, in an opinion piece in the Portland Press Herald, Rees highlighted the council’s “ambitious” goals and his plan to implement them. Those goals include increasing affordable housing, marketing the Portland Technology Park, ending and preventing homelessness, and furthering economic development.

A new website and a more efficient way of responding to “customer calls” also are priorities, he wrote.

Rees’ contract requires him to establish permanent residency in Portland. Rees said he has fulfilled that requirement by renting an apartment in the city. His wife continues to work in Massachusetts and live in the couple’s home in North Andover, where Rees worked before he was hired for the job in Portland.

The City Council and Rees will have to indicate an intent to renew the contract by April 20, 2015. The one-year extension expires on June 20, 2015.

Rees will earn just under $146,600 for the next year and continue to receive a $450 monthly automobile allowance.

Rees said he hopes to stay with the city beyond an additional year. “I’ve enjoyed my three years in Portland,” he said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings