Portland city manager abruptly announces resignation

Portland City Manager Mark Rees
Seth Koenig | BDN
Portland City Manager Mark Rees Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 18, 2014, at 4:35 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 19, 2014, at 11:32 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland City Manager Mark Rees abruptly announced late Monday that he will resign as the top administrator for Maine’s largest city, citing interests in pursuing other personal and professional opportunities.

Rees’ resignation takes effect Sept. 3, according to an announcement issued late Monday afternoon. Rees came to Portland from North Andover, Massachusetts, in 2011 to serve as the replacement for longtime city manager Joe Gray.

Mayor Michael Brennan, who was popularly elected just four months after Rees took office, said that while Rees’ resignation may come as a surprise to the public, he was not shocked by the move.

“He had indicated several days ago that he was thinking, because of other personal and professional reasons, about resigning,” Brennan told the Bangor Daily News on Monday night, adding that Rees did not specify to him what those personal and professional reasons were.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Rees was not granting interviews Monday night.

With Rees facing the rapidly approaching end to his initial three-year contract this spring, the City Council stopped short of offering him another multiyear deal and instead agreed to a one-year extension that would have kept him in Portland until July of 2015.

Rees follows a line of experienced city administrators out the door this year, with Finance Director Ellen Sanborn and Health and Human Services Director Douglas Gardner among the most recent department heads to announce their departures.

In a three-year wave of turnover that Rees’ arrival was an early part of, Portland has replaced its mayor, school superintendent, police chief, fire chief, assistant city manager, planning director, communications director and three lawyers, in addition to the aforementioned vacancies in the finance and human services departments.

Brennan ascribed the turnover to “a combination of different reasons,” saying each individual to leave City Hall had different job opportunities or motivations.

“One thing Mark has shown himself as [strong in] is the hiring of really good people to fill those positions,” Brennan said.

In each of the past two years, the City Council has put off voting on annual pay raises for Rees until deep into the next fiscal years — in December of 2012 and October of 2013.

Councilors both times ultimately made the 1 percent to 1.5 percent raises retroactive to the beginnings of the respective fiscal years and insisted the modest sizes and delays of the pay hikes should not be construed as disapproval of the job Rees was doing.

On Monday, Rees announced he would be stepping down with little advance public warning.

At its next regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 3, the City Council is expected to appoint an interim city manager and immediately launch a search for Rees’ permanent replacement.

In his letter of resignation, Rees listed a number of accomplishments as city manager, including the establishment of the city’s first five-year capital improvement plan and oversight of the high-profile reorganization of the Fire Department.

“He established the city’s first five-year capital improvement program, as well as presenting us with three balanced operating budgets,” said City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, chairman of the finance committee, in a statement. “I wish Mark well as he pursues other opportunities.”

Early in their time together in City Hall, Brennan described trying to determine which responsibilities belonged to the city manager and which belonged to the mayor, which had recently been made a full-time city position, as challenging. Ostensibly, the city manager is Portland’s top day-to-day administrator, while the mayor leads its governing body, the City Council, and works on broader advocacy and policy initiatives.

Brennan said on Monday defining how the two positions interact remains “a work in progress” as another transition looms.

The mayor said he is “almost certain” the city will hire an outside consultant to help with the search for a new city manager, and while he wouldn’t place a timetable on the process, said Portland will work “quickly and deliberately” to fill the position.

 

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