Portland finance director to move to school department; City Hall turnover continues

Portland City Hall (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Portland City Hall (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

About two years ago, I was talking to Portland City Manager Mark Rees about what was at the time an almost unprecedented amount of turnover at City Hall — within the previous 18 months or so, the city had replaced or begun searching for a new fire chief, police chief, school superintendent, planning director, mayor, deputy city manager and two top attorneys. And that was in addition to Rees himself, who only started in the position the previous year.

One of the things Rees said at the time was that, although there had indeed been a lot of turnover, there was still a fair amount of valuable institutional memory in the halls of City Hall, and he referenced by name longtime finance director Ellen Sanborn.

About that…

Ellen Sanborn (Portland Public Schools photo)

Ellen Sanborn (Portland Public Schools photo)

Today, Portland Public Schools announced that Sanborn will be leaving the city government position and taking over as the school department’s new chief financial officer. Sanborn had been an accountant with the city since 1984, and took over as the head of finances six years ago.

She hasn’t gone far, but nonetheless, the city is once again searching for a replacement for one of its key department heads.

Since that sweeping turnover of 2011-2012, the changes at City Hall have slowed down a bit, but not ceased completely.

Portland hired a new communications director and a third city attorney was replaced on the Portland legal team, as well, since then. Before Sanborn, Douglas Gardner announced he would be leaving his post as director of the city’s Department of Health and Human Resources in late June, a position that has yet to be permanently refilled. And now the city must go on the hunt for a new finance director as well.

Cheryl Leeman, a former mayor and mainstay on the City Council, has announced she won’t seek re-election for the first time in nearly three decades, and fellow councilor John Coyne similarly said he’s done after six years on the panel.

The good news is, thus far, the city has been pretty successful bringing in new people with strong track records and resumes. So while this period of transition could have been a large-scale disaster with bad hires, it has instead largely been an opportunity to bring in fresh energy and ideas without losing much in the way of momentum the city has built up in recent years.

The news of Sanborn’s hire by Portland Public Schools came as part of a larger department hiring announcement. In addition to Sanborn, the system also announced the appointment of Jennifer Searway as the new head of the West Program, as well as the appointment of Patricia Crowley-Rockwell as assistant principal at King Middle School and Bethany Connolly to the same position at Lincoln Middle School.

For more about all four administrators’ backgrounds, click here.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said this in a statement about the hires:

These administrators bring extraordinary talent and skills. They will help us advance in our effort to become the best small urban school district in the country by 2017.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.