Danielle West was named city manager May 15 by unanimous vote of the Portland City Council. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Portland’s new city manager, Danielle West, remembers how she felt 18 months ago when she first took on the job on an interim basis.

She was scared and excited. She worried about whether she could juggle the responsibilities and demands along with caring for her two children.

“I thought this is exciting and an honor, but I’m also nervous,” said West, 45.

For West and the city of Portland, what was essentially a trial run over the last year and a half worked out. On May 15 the City Council unanimously approved her for the permanent job.

She takes over at a critical time as the city confronts a homelessness crisis compounded by a housing shortage, an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers and staff vacancies that have plagued day-to-day operations.

West, who served for years as the city’s top attorney, said she’s up to the challenge.


“It’s going to be, hopefully, a good experience all around for everyone,” West said. “I want to do the best job I can on a daily basis.”


Originally from the Rochester area of upstate New York, West moved to Maine in 2000 to attend the University of Maine School of Law. She got her bachelor’s degree in political science from Oswego State University.

She didn’t intend to stay in Portland long-term but ended up liking it so much that she changed her mind. Being an avid lover of the outdoors – a runner, alpine skier and frequent surfer at Scarborough’s Higgins Beach – certainly factored in.

After law school, West clerked for several judges in the Maine Superior Court, drafting decisions and memos and working mostly on zoning and planning board decisions and appeals. She then went to work for a small firm in Kennebunk, Bergen & Parkinson, where she focused on land use and municipal law.

In 2008 an associate position opened up with Portland’s legal office. West, who lives in the city, applied and got the job, working under Portland’s former corporation counsel, Gary Wood.


When Wood decided to retire three years later, West stepped in as interim corporation counsel before being appointed to the permanent position. She was the first woman to hold the job – a distinction that has followed her to the city manager post.

As West took her oath of office this month, several current and former elected officials and staff members noted the historic nature of the moment and praised West for her thoughtfulness, creativity and leadership.

“She came ready to work. You know how when you buy something, open the box and it works? That’s Danielle,” Wood told a packed crowd in council chambers.

Fire Chief Keith Gautreau, who has worked for the city for 28 years, including the last five as chief, said he got to know West when she first came to work with the city. “She was super helpful and very knowledgeable in an area where I didn’t know anything about legal stuff,” Gautreau said in an interview.

He said that has continued as West’s career progressed, noting that after she took over as interim manager he worked with her to write a new city policy and program to allow retired employees to keep working while collecting retirement benefits – a move intended to help retain staff and better plan for job openings.

Gautreau said he had been advocating for the program for years, but it was West who helped make it happen. “She listens and she allows me to do my job as fire chief,” he said. “She trusts me to take on projects I think need to happen.”


Danielle West takes over after 18 months as interim manager and is the first woman to serve as in the position. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


In November 2021, when former City Manager Jon Jennings announced that he would leave for a similar job in Clearwater, Florida, the council and Mayor Kate Snyder named West to the job on an interim basis – a position she would ultimately hold for 18 months as the search for a new city manager was delayed by the work of the Charter Commission.

The commission recommended a series of changes that would have significantly changed the role and duties of the city manager and mayor, moving more of the powers from the appointed city manager, such as the ability to name department heads and present the city budget, to the elected mayor. Voters rejected the commission’s governance proposal in November with 65% voting against it.

The city manager is the top appointed job in Portland government, charged with preparing and presenting the annual budget and capital improvement plans, appointing department heads and implementing the council’s policy decisions. The manager also oversees day-to-day operations and a city staff of about 1,400.

Jennings, the former city manager, told the Press Herald in 2021 that when he interviewed for the job, he told the council he intended to be a “strong manager” who would insulate staff from political pressure so they could focus on their daily responsibilities and work toward the collective goals of the council.

But there were also tensions under Jennings’ six-year tenure. He often clashed with former Mayor Ethan Strimling, especially over the issue of the mayor’s access to staff, and leaders of a local movement for racial justice in 2020 personally targeted Jennings and said he should resign because he had supported policies that they said disadvantaged people of color.


Mayor Snyder said she didn’t think it would be useful to try and compare Jennings’ and West’s approaches to the job.

She said there was some friction between the mayor and city manager prior to her election in 2019, but that Jennings also worked very hard on the city’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic and that some of the tensions that marked the end of his tenure – such as the calls for his resignation during the racial justice protests – came from outside City Hall.

Snyder said West has always been a problem solver and someone she’s had a good working relationship with.

“She’s curious. She’s smart and she’s willing to work very hard,” Snyder said. “I think she’s a great appointment.”

West said she sees the role of manager as a facilitator, collaborator and communicator.

“I take that really seriously, that communication piece, and trying to be open and transparent and deliver the message to everyone so they know what’s going on, where we stand and how we’re going to move forward,” she said.


Portland police stand by as city workers clear a homeless encampment on the Bayside Trail earlier this month. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


It’s not always easy. After weeks of debate, public feedback and city meetings, West made the decision this month to clear a large homeless encampment from the Bayside Trail.

“That was a very difficult decision,” she said. “It was one where we as staff were trying to balance a lot of different viewpoints. But in that specific case, the health and safety issues were of such a nature and so significant that we didn’t see another possible path.”

The encampment, which had grown to more than 80 tents in a two-block span, highlighted the homelessness crisis facing Portland and the state – something West said she and city officials are focused on addressing.

In the short term, West said the city is setting up a task force and mobile engagement team that would provide services and assistance getting into housing anytime a large encampment is considered for clearing.

And in the long term, the city is pushing lawmakers to increase General Assistance funding and provide for more transitional housing.


West said the city can’t do it alone, noting that Portland is providing 654 emergency shelter beds for homeless people and asylum seekers, and housing another 550 people on a nightly basis using additional space in hotels.

“I want to implore people to look at this as a regional if not a statewide issue,” she said. “I think we need regional and statewide solutions. That’s the only way I think we will see change and help that will go to these individuals who need it so desperately.”

The city faces a staffing shortage with about 250 vacant positions that include the police chief and department heads in public works and economic development.

West said filling those top jobs will be her first step in addressing the shortage, and she hopes it will help with filling lower-level positions.

Having someone in the permanent city manager job should also help.

“Before, if you brought someone in to interview them, they said, ‘Who will my boss be?’ and I had to say I didn’t know,” she said. “When you lack leadership (at the higher levels), it’s hard to hire (for lower positions). My hope is that will definitely be one thing that will be different and will change.”


There should also be an advantage to the council to having a permanent manager, Snyder said.

“To know we have someone in place that we assume will be in that position for several years provides a real opportunity to work on initiatives that span time,” Snyder said. “Not everything happens quickly. With the permanent hire, I think the council has better opportunities to build towards multi-year initiatives because we know we will be together.”

For the most part, West said her job as city manager will largely look like it has for the last year and a half – busy.

“I’ll continue to work in the same way I have and do the best job I can on a daily basis,” she said. “We may not all agree on everything, and that will probably also be the case moving forward. But my commitment is to help the council and make sure their goals are achieved, and to make sure staff are getting what they need as well.”

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