The Portland City Council remains divided as to the best way to move forward with the search to find a new city manager. What that process looks like could largely be determined by how long Jon Jennings remains in the position.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jennings, who was hired in June 2015, is under contract through July 12, 2022, but he is a finalist for a city manager position in Clearwater, Florida. Jennings and the three other finalists were scheduled to be in Clearwater this week for final interviews. The Clearwater City Council was expected to name the new manager as early as Thursday, Sept. 2.

Councilors agreed if Jennings is selected for the Florida job and gives a 90 day notice – the only requirement for ending his contract early  hiring an interim manager would be the way to go.

Councilor Mark Dion said it could make the most sense to appoint that interim manager from someone within the city’s ranks.

“Looking at the managerial and executive staff, among them we can find someone who can sit in that chair and make the appropriate decisions until we can find a (permanent) city manager,” he said at an Aug. 30 workshop.

Councilor Pious Ali said he supports an interim even if Jennings remains to the end of his contract. He also wants to put off a full search until after the public votes on the charter commission’s recommendations, which could include changes to how city government is set up and the city manager’s roles and responsibilities.  Recommendations from the group are expected by next summer, with a vote as early as November 2022.

“I think it is best to have an interim because they will come in knowing he or she is hired specifically to be a placeholder for when the charter commission is over and we know what the job description looks like and what the job entails,”Ali said.

Councilor Belinda Ray said hiring an interim city manager to wait until the outcome of the charter commission vote would put the city in a “holding pattern.” She would rather see the city begin a full city manager search now and only hire an interim if Jennings leaves the job early.

“We don’t know what’s going to come out of the charter commission process and we don’t know what the voters will support,” she said.

Dion said he “personally refuses to be handcuffed” by the potential outcome of a vote on city charter amendments.

“We need to deal with what is,” he said.

Councilor Tae Chong, who supports a full manager search, said he would be looking for a candidate that has a strong economic development background, has deep knowledge of health and human services and knows about federal grants in addition to local, state and federal government.

“Let’s not compromise the city and let’s make sure we have the staff we need to do the job,” Chong said. “If the vote comes out and we need to pivot, we will make that pivot.”

Mavodones worried that the uncertainty the charter commission could have on the city manager’s job description could impact the applicant pool.

“Because we are going through a charter commission process, sometimes there are a lot of experienced city manager candidates that don’t apply because they don’t know what the future brings,” he said. “None if us do. That will be up to the voters.”

Mayor Kate Snyder said the council will reconvene in mid-September to lay out how the group wants to move going forward.

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