SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Expect Jon Jennings to give economic development in the city a full-court press.
Jennings, 50, was named assistant city manager on Tuesday, with a specific task of spurring economic growth. He said he will bring his experience in sports, business and government to his new post.
“I’m very, very excited about the opportunity to work with a great group of people,” he said.
Jennings was one of two hires this week by City Manager Jim Gailey. Although it was not officially announced, city Director of Human Resources Don Brewer confirmed Chris Dumais has been named to lead the municipal information technology department.
In that position, Dumais will oversee municipal and school department IT operations.
Jennings, a co-founder and former president and general manager of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, was also a scout, assistant coach and director of basketball development for the Boston Celtics; a White House and U.S. Department of Justice staffer, and directed state operations for former Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry is now U.S. secretary of state.
Jennings was appointed to a seat on the Cumberland Town Council last month and was also involved in the planning of a potential hotel and arena development project on Thompson’s Point in Portland. Last November, he and some business partners opened a Red Mango frozen yogurt franchise in Maine Mall.
“I’m a hyper-competitive person, first and foremost,” Jennings said.
Although he admitted he’ll need time to learn about the city and how to help it grow economically, Jennings said he is eager to get started.
“My plan is to get out and meet with people, the neighbors and the corporate base,” Jennings said. “There are a tremendous number of people in South Portland with more experience than me I can learn from.”
He said mentors including former Celtics President Red Auerbach, former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight, Kerry, and other business leaders, have taught him about preparation and management.
In a news release, Gailey said Jenning’s diverse career will be valued.
“We are thrilled to have Jon Jennings join the city of South Portland team. His vast business knowledge and diverse experiences are strong assets he brings to the position,” Gailey said.
Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane said he has no concerns about Jennings serving as a city administrator in South Portland and a councilor in Cumberland.
Jennings said it is all a part of his desire for public service.
“I’m pretty excited about city government,” he said. “It is the truest form of government.”
His efforts to build a hotel and arena complex on Thompson’s Point off the Fore River are indicative of what might be needed to develop South Portland, Jennings said: The city lacks open land for development, so a key will be how to reuse land to fit a changing economy.
At the same time, Jennings said city neighborhoods are also a draw for him because they remind him of the Boston area in their unique nature. He said the Bug Light area is a great community draw and added ensuring current business owners get the attention and assistance they need is a critical part of economic development.
“I did a lot of research prior to taking [the job]. I’m impressed by the way the city is managed, there are a lot of existing programs in place,” Jennings said.
Jennings is expected to start work in the middle of March. He was selected from a field of 85 candidates from as far away as Australia. The field was reduced to seven finalists picked by Gailey and a search committee of Brewer, Fire Chief Kevin Guimond, Transportation and Waterfront Director Tom Meyers, Water Resource Protection Director Pat Cloutier and Finance Director Greg L’Heureux.
Jennings replaces former Assistant City Manager Erik Carson, who resigned from city government last August. In October 2011, Carson was demoted by Gailey, but held on to his job as economic director until he was placed on administrative leave and subsequently stepped down.
Brewer said Jennings will earn almost $86,000 annually, while Dumais will be paid $76,400 a year.