SOUTH PORTLAND — About 50 residents turned out Wednesday night to meet the two finalists chosen by the City Council in its search for a new city manager.

The council presented Edward Collins, former city administrator of Lehi, Utah, and two Maine towns, and James “Ty” Ross, former city administrator of Dalton, Georgia, during an informal gathering at the South Portland Community Center.

Chosen from 23 applicants, Collins and Ross mingled and chatted with residents, as did their wives, Kaye Collins and Jen Ross.

On Thursday, each finalist will meet with municipal department heads and the school superintendent during the day and have a second interview with the council in the evening.

The council anticipates announcing the new city manager and his starting date next week.

The council is seeking a replacement for Jim Gailey, who left the job in July to become assistant manager of Cumberland County. Gailey was paid $121,000 per year, plus a monthly vehicle allowance. Interim City Manager Don Gerrish and Eaton Peabody Consulting Group are assisting with the search.

Collins, 51, said he came to apply for the position in part by chance.

He’s from Bangor, his wife is from Skowhegan, and she recently inherited her late aunt’s home in South Portland. Self-described empty-nesters and regular visitors to Maine, they’ve been here a lot lately, working on the house and deciding whether to keep it.

“I learned the position was vacant and decided to apply,” Collins said.

Collins has been general manager of a civil engineering services company in Lehi since 2006, after working as the city administrator there from 1996 to 2005.

Before that, he was town manager in Lubec from 1987 to 1988; community development director in Calais from 1988 to 1990; executive director of a regional job opportunity program in Washington County; town manager in Baileyville from 1992 to 1994; and business services manager for a redevelopment agency in West Valley City, Utah, from 1994 to 1996, according to his resume on linkedin.com.

He received a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from the University of Maine in 1987 and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Utah in 1998.

Ross, 42, said he and his wife have visited Maine often because they have friends here who are more like family. He was drawn to apply for the city manager’s position because of the natural beauty and cultural amenities of South Portland and surrounding communities, he said.

He noted that Dalton, Georgia, is a full-service municipality of about 33,000 people – similar to South Portland, which has about 25,000 people.

“But it’s not near the ocean,” Ross said, smiling.

Ross resigned suddenly from the Dalton city administrator’s post on Sept. 14, according to The Daily Citizen of Dalton. While Ross and city officials there had declined to speak publicly about his reasons, Ross gave a brief explanation before Wednesday’s meet-and-greet event.

“The council went in one direction and I went in another direction,” Ross said, referring to a $4 million proposal to buy several downtown properties and create a city park.

The council backed out of the deal in late August, paying the property owner an $85,000 penalty, The Daily Citizen reported.

Ross had played a key role in Dalton’s open space initiatives, prompting the mayor there to describe him as a workhorse, a wealth of knowledge and a real asset to the city, according to the newspaper. Ross’ annual salary in Dalton was $95,000.

Ross became Dalton’s city administrator in 2009 after a 13-month search, the newspaper reported. Before that, he practiced law for six years, then served as assistant dean of Dalton State College’s business school.

A native of that area, he received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Georgia in 1997, a law degree from Georgia State University College of Law in 2002 and a master’s degree in business administration from Kennesaw State University in 2008.