PORTLAND, Maine — Portland’s Acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian will leave Maine’s largest city for a new job in Cincinnati, Ohio, next month.
The news comes about seven months after previous City Manager Mark Rees abruptly announced his resignation from the post and less than a month after Hill-Christian said she was dropping out of contention to replace him on a permanent basis.
Her last day in Portland will be May 8, leaving the city with a void in its highest level administrator position. Portland is now in search of a full city manager and a deputy city manager, as Hill-Christian had been doing both jobs since the September departure of Rees.
“I have accepted the position of assistant city manager for the city of Cincinnati, Ohio,” Hill-Christian said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “I was approached with this opportunity, and I have decided that it is a good fit for me personally and professionally at this time.
“Portland is a wonderful city and I have thoroughly enjoyed working here. I am truly grateful for the opportunity that the Council has given me to serve,” she continued. “While my decision was a difficult one to make, I believe that our recent new hires, the solid team of department heads, and the structure provided by the recommended [fiscal year 2016] budget leaves the council and the city of Portland in a good place.”
Hill-Christian was hired in 2013 as Portland’s deputy city manager, a role that gave her direct oversight over a range of the city’s most visible departments, including the police, fire, public services and recreation departments and the Portland International Jetport.
The very next fall, she was thrust into service as the full city manager, following Rees’ resignation, which he said was because he wanted to “pursue other personal and professional opportunities.”
Cincinnati is more than four times the size of Portland, with a population of just under 300,000 people, compared to the Maine city’s population of about 66,000. Before coming to Portland, Hill-Christian held a variety of top administrative jobs for the city of Richmond, Virginia, which has a population of about 214,000.
As Portland’s city manager, Hill-Christian has remained a well-liked figure at City Hall, despite having to navigate a difficult stretch for the city.
Portland has been locked in a legal battle with the administration of Gov. Paul LePage since last summer over the distribution of General Assistance welfare benefits in the city. That dispute, coupled with more recent welfare changes sought by LePage, has left Portland facing a potential budget deficit of as much as $10 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
As a result, Hill-Christian’s draft budget for 2016 includes 24 job cuts and a property tax increase of nearly 3 percent to help offset the decrease in expected welfare reimbursements.
But when the City Council goes to vote on the spending plan May 18, Hill-Christian will be gone.
According to a Wednesday announcement by city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin, Mayor Michael Brennan and the council will “appoint a new acting city manager at a future council meeting.”
The search committee seeking to find a permanent replacement for Rees hoped to make its choice by July.
Hill-Christian’s departure continues what has been four years of steady turnover at Portland City Hall.
Starting with Rees’ hiring in 2011 and continuing through this year, the city has hired a new city manager, deputy city manager, police chief, fire chief, communications director, finance department director, school superintendent, planning director, director of health and human services, human resources director and corporation counsel, among other top positions, and has welcomed its first popularly elected mayor since 1923.