PORTLAND, Maine — As expected, the Portland City Council tapped Deputy City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian, a former high-ranking administrator in Richmond, Virginia, as the city’s acting city manager on Wednesday night.
“The city of Portland is very fortunate to have Sheila Hill-Christian, who is able to step up and assume this leadership role,” said former state lawmaker and City Councilor Jon Hinck on Wednesday night.
Hill-Christian at least temporarily takes over for Mark Rees, who held the post for three years and announced his resignation on Aug. 18 with nearly a year left on his contract. Rees said at the time that he plans to pursue other personal and professional opportunities.
The council also informally decided to allow Hill-Christian to pick up the searches for three department heads in progress, as opposed to putting those searches on hold until a permanent city manager is in place to make the hires.
In addition to the city manager position, Portland has vacancies at the heads of its health and human services, human resources and finance departments.
Hill-Christian said the city and its consultants have identified candidates for the human resources and the health and human services jobs.
“They happen to be excellent candidates, and the concern is [of] some of them getting away,” Hill-Christian told the council during a Wednesday night workshop.
The city has faced heavy turnover since 2011.
In that three-plus-year period, Portland replaced its city manager, 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.
Finance Director Ellen Sanborn and Health and Human Services Director Douglas Gardner announced their departures in June and August, respectively.
The deputy city manager position was created during the fiscal year 2013 budget cycle, in which Rees called for Portland’s two assistant city manager positions to be consolidated into a single, more powerful deputy seat.
Hill-Christian was hired to the post at an annual salary of $125,000 in early 2013, and she has directly overseen a range of the city’s most visible departments in that job, including the police, fire, public services and recreation departments and the Portland International Jetport.
“She already had a pretty full-time job and then some, and she’s taking on another full-time job and then some,” said City Councilor Ed Suslovic.
She came to Portland by way of Richmond, Virginia, where she headed her own government consulting group. She had previously worked as chief administrative officer for the mayor of Richmond, executive director of the Virginia Lottery, executive director of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, chief operating officer of the GRTC Transit System, and director of the city of Richmond’s Juvenile Justice Services and Parks and Recreation departments.
Portland is Maine’s largest city with a population of about 66,000, while Richmond is Virginia’s fourth largest city with a population of about 214,000.
“One of the things our outgoing city manager did well was make hires, and this is one of the best hires he made,” said City Councilor Jill Duson.
Fellow councilor Cheryl Leeman said Hill-Christian “brings experience, integrity, strength and leadership to this position.”
Hill-Christian will be paid nearly $147,000 — about what Rees was being paid — as acting city manager.
In addition to a unanimous vote to name Hill-Christian to the top administrator post on an interim basis, the City Council voted to name four of its members to a city manager search committee.
Mayor Michael Brennan and city councilors Duson, Suslovic and Nicholas Mavodones will make up that committee.
In a workshop setting before the start of the council’s regular meeting, the councilors informally agreed to allow Hill-Christian to pick up where Rees left off in the search processes for the other posts and to allow top city attorney Danielle West-Chuhta to consider possible consultants for the city manager search. The City Council cannot vote in a workshop setting.