Faced with two vacancies – one impending and one current – among the top three jobs at City Hall, Portland City Manager Jon Jennings says he is once again reorganizing the city’s executive branch.

Jennings said he will fill one of the two assistant city manager positions and eliminate the other. However, he’s creating a new executive-level position to oversee innovation, which will pay about $50,000 less than the $140,000 salary of Assistant City Manager Michael Sauschuck.

“I do think and believe that having two assistants would have been helpful,” Jennings said. “But my priority, instead of having two assistant city managers, is really to take a deep dive on the innovation side.”

The move comes after Sauschuck, the city’s former chief of police, was chosen by Gov. Janet Mills to become Maine’s next public safety commissioner. Sauschuck will continue to serve at City Hall until he is confirmed by the Legislature, likely in the coming weeks.

The transition comes during a busy time for the city, which is poised to begin building next year’s budget and is working on continuing projects such as finding a location for a new homeless services center and trying to address concerns along the working waterfront that forced the city to institute a six-month building moratorium.

When Jennings came to the city in 2015, the executive department had a deputy city manager and a senior adviser to the city manager. But Jennings reorganized his office in 2018 to create two assistant city manager posts, a structure that the city said was more common in recent decades. Jennings hoped to divvy up responsibilities within the executive department between himself and two assistants, so the city could be less reactive and more focused on long-term planning.

Jennings hired former New York state administrator Mona Bector in May to fill one of the new assistant manager positions. Sauschuck was hired in July to replace Anita LaChance, a city employee for 38 years who retired in August and now has a meeting room named in her honor at City Hall.

Bector resigned in August, citing “differences of opinions” with Jennings. She was not replaced, leaving Sauschuck as the sole assistant manager.

Jennings said the city will begin searching for someone to replace Sauschuck in the coming weeks. Jennings does not plan to fill the vacancy on an interim basis, primarily because of the existing workload on city staff.

“I don’t want to additionally burden them, so I will be the lone ranger for now,” Jennings said. “But hopefully we can get someone in here in the near future, but it’s important to get the right person more than just a body.”

As city manager, Jennings is charged with running the day-to-day operations of the city, which has over 1,400 employees and a municipal budget of $250 million.

While Jennings worked closely with the core city departments, such as police, fire, finance, human resources and public works, Sauschuck said he was charged with overseeing information technology, parks and recreation, housing safety emergency management, health and human services, and the assessors office.

Sauschuck also was working with the fire department on an internal study to improve efficiency, as well as focusing on special projects such as building a new homeless services center in the city.

“It’s busy, but everybody’s busy,” Sauschuck said of his current role. “But you’re not going hear me whining about the workload.”

Sauschuck and Jennings said the city can get by with one assistant manager. And, while Sauschuck and LaChance both had extensive experience with the city before entering the executive department, it’s not a prerequisite for the job, Sauschuck said.

“I think the institutional knowledge is at the department head level and we have true professionals and continuity there,” said Sauschuck, who has been with the city since 1997. “It’s nice to know who the players are, but I don’t think it’s imperative to be successful in a role like this.”

Jennings said the city already is looking for someone to fill the new innovation and performance management position, which will pay up to $92,000. He said that position is necessary to oversee Portland’s efforts to update its internal and external IT systems, as well as roll-out so-called smart city initiatives, such as LED lighting, free public WiFi and traffic signals that adjust to traffic volume in real time, among other things. Jennings also has expressed interest in bringing self-driving vehicles to Portland.

“If we’re going to be a modern city and be dedicated to these new ways of doing things, I need someone to help lead those efforts,” he said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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