PORTLAND – They certainly acted as if it was happy hour, even if the only beverage available was bottled water.

With smiles fixed in place, the three candidates for Portland city manager listened, nodded and offered safe answers to about 50 residents who turned out to meet them at a public reception in City Hall on Friday evening.

Acting City Manager Patricia Finnigan; Julian Suso, the town manager of Framingham, Mass.; and Mark Rees, the town manager of North Andover, Mass., mingled and mixed for 90 minutes after they sat for individual interviews with three city councilors during the afternoon.

The other six councilors will talk to each finalist this morning, and the full council will interview the candidates. This afternoon, the council will meet privately to determine whether there’s a consensus on who should get the job. If there is, a decision could be announced next week and ratified next month.

Suso and Rees were taken on a tour of the city Friday morning and, not surprisingly, said they liked what they saw.

Suso called Portland “world-class” and “cosmopolitan,” while Rees said he was impressed with “what a full-service city Portland is.”

Finnigan has worked for the city for four years and has been acting city manager since February, when City Manager Joe Gray retired after 10 years on the job. She skipped Friday’s tour and the lunchtime meeting with department heads.

She said she mostly stayed out of the way of the other two so they could make their own impressions and form their own opinions of the city.

Both of the candidates from Massachusetts manage communities with smaller government operations than Portland’s.

Framingham, with a population of 68,000, has about the same number of residents as Portland but its municipal operating budget is about $120 million, compared with Portland’s $201 million.

North Andover, with about 30,000 residents, has a town operating budget of about $20 million.

Whoever gets the job will start with a bit of uncertainty. Portland residents will elect their mayor this fall, after 88 years of the City Council electing one of its members as mayor for a one-year term in a largely ceremonial role.

The candidate who wins in November will become a full-time mayor with a four-year term, a salary of about $66,000 a year and the power to veto the budget, although that decision can be overturned by a vote of six councilors.

None of the three candidates to be city manager said they would have any problem working side-by-side with an elected mayor.

The councilors who interviewed the candidates Friday were mum on their impressions, but some did share their interviewing techniques.

Councilor Ed Suslovic said he talked to the candidates about how they might expand the city’s efforts to collaborate with neighboring communities to provide services and cut costs.

He said he also talked about the city’s efforts to become more sustainable.

Councilor Jill Duson said she asked the candidates to give her an “elevator speech,” saying in about 30 seconds — roughly the length of an elevator ride — why they should get the job.

She also asked about their leadership styles and how they have worked and not worked for them over the years. Duson also asked the candidates what people in their hometowns would say if she went there and asked people for their opinions of the candidates.

For Suso, that might be mixed. The selectmen in Framingham opted this spring not to renew his contract, which expires June 30.

Suso said only that the board “decided to go in a different direction” and he would go beyond that explanation only with the Portland council behind closed doors.

Framingham Selectwoman Laurie Lee echoed Suso’s description, saying the board “thought we needed to move in a direction that really required some specialties” that they felt Suso lacked. She mentioned the town’s need for development, but she declined to be more specific.

Rees said he is comfortable with Portland’s open selection process — many communities don’t publicly identify job candidates — and said his selectmen wished him well and made it clear that they will welcome him back if he’s not hired here.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]