South Portland assistant city manager Jon Jennings has been chosen to become Portland’s next city manager, bringing a diverse background that includes time as president of the Maine Red Claws basketball franchise and as a senior adviser in the White House.

Jennings, 52, has accepted the job offer and the City Council will vote on his appointment Monday. If confirmed, he will start as city manager on July 13 under a three-year contract that will pay him a base salary of $148,064 a year.

“I’m pleased that Jon has accepted our offer to be Portland’s next city manager,” Mayor Michael Brennan said in a written statement. “Jon’s unique background in both government and business will serve Portland well. I look forward to him getting to work.”

Jennings, who has been a top administrator for South Portland since February 2013, earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and served as a senior adviser for the White House’s Office of Cabinet Affairs under former President Bill Clinton.

Jennings will replace Sheila Hill-Christian, the deputy city manager and acting city manager whom councilors encouraged to apply for the job but instead took a job in Cincinnati on May 8. Hill-Christian replaced Mark Rees, who abruptly resigned in the fall of 2014.

Jennings will take over during a period of significant transition at City Hall, with turnover occurring among top administrators and a flurry of real estate development activity that has caused both anxiety and optimism in the community. He also comes to Portland at a time when several high-profile decisions need to be made about next year’s $221 million budget, including managing the possible closure of an emergency overflow homeless shelter, as well as reforms to the city’s General Assistance program.

Changes in the state budget and assistance policies have caused the city to consider closing the overflow shelter and to cut off General Assistance to asylum seekers starting July 1. Closing the shelter could put 75 people on the streets, and the General Assistance change could affect more than 900 immigrants who are seeking political asylum.

Still, Jennings said in a phone interview Friday he is “incredibly excited” to be offered the job and that he is looking forward to finding innovative ways to do business to help guide the city through its transition. He said “everything needs to be on the table” to ensure that city government is effective and efficient.

“I believe strong leadership is needed, not only at the elected level but also at the appointed level, such as the city manager,” Jennings said.

He said the city needs a strong manager to help ease tensions that have surfaced between councilors and the mayor.

“I certainly envision my role as city manager as a strong city manager,” Jennings said. “I do see the city manager playing a role in working with the mayor and the council to further the agenda of the city in a very collegial and collective way.”

Brennan, who chaired the City Manager Search Committee, said in an interview that he “looked forward to talking to” Jennings about his vision of being a strong manager, but declined to elaborate.

Brennan, who announced last week that he is seeking another four-year term, is the city’s first popularly elected mayor in nearly 90 years. Having a full-time, elected mayor who is not responsible for day-to-day operations has caused tension with previous city managers and among councilors, who have struggled to define their roles in the new system.

Jennings was one of three finalists for the position. He said in the last two years he has helped sell the South Portland Armory for redevelopment and focused on sustainability initiatives, such as adding electric vehicles to the city fleet and charging stations.

“Putting a name and a face with the business community was really important in my time in South Portland,” Jennings said.


Before taking the job in South Portland, he was president and co-owner of the Red Claws, an NBA Development League team, from 2007-2012 and a general partner in the Thompson’s Point Development Co., which is undertaking an estimated $110 million redevelopment of nearly 30 acres of former industrial land along the Fore River.

Jennings spearheaded efforts to convince Portland councilors to give the project a 30-year, $30 million tax break to facilitate the development, which calls for an arena/event center that would become the new home of the Red Claws, as well as up to 120 residential condominiums and a wide variety of other uses, including a circus school, office buildings, restaurants and an amphitheater.

According to his biography on South Portland’s website, Jennings is still a partner in the Thompson’s Point Development. However, Chris Thompson, who is leading the development, said Jennings is no longer involved in the project.

Jennings said Friday that in the last few months he has divested himself of the Thompson’s Point project, but declined to disclose the financial terms. His only other business or real estate interest in the region is his co-ownership of Red Mango, a frozen yogurt shop at the Maine Mall in South Portland, he said.

Brennan said that councilors weren’t concerned about Jennings’ involvement with the Thompson’s Point project or his lack of experience as a city manager.

“I think people felt that because of his collective experience and skills that he was well-suited to be city manager of Portland at this time,” Brennan said.

From 2005-07, Jennings oversaw Sen. John Kerry’s political operations in Massachusetts. He also served as an acting assistant U.S. attorney general.

Sixty-six people applied for the Portland city manager position during a nationwide search.

Jennings said that he never envisioned becoming a city manager, but the opportunity in Portland was too good to pass up.

“I’m a passionate advocate of Portland,” he said. “For me, I feel like I’m coming back home to Portland and I’m incredibly excited.”

If confirmed Monday, Jennings said he, his wife and 11-year-old daughter plan to move to Portland within the next 12 months, as required by his contract.