Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck talks Thursday about his decision to retire from the force to become one of two assistant city managers working under Jon Jennings. He begins his new job Aug. 6.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck will leave his post atop the department to serve in one of two assistant city manager positions created this month, the city said Thursday.

Sauschuck will retire as chief July 20 – capping a 21-year career with the department – and begin in the newly created position Aug. 6, drawing a $140,000 annual salary in addition to his state pension. The practice of collecting both a public salary and a public pension, known as double-dipping, is common and controversial.

He will join Assistant City Manager Mona Bector, who was hired a month ago. The pair will report directly to City Manager Jon Jennings as part of a management structure established in the municipal budget that went into effect July 1.

The hiring of Bector and Sauschuck represents a return to a previous city structure in which two assistants worked below the city manager, and was driven in part by the workload that Jennings has encountered while running Maine’s largest city, he said.

The two assistant managers replace two other positions – deputy city manager and senior adviser to the city manager. The net cost to the city will be roughly $40,000 a year, Jennings said.

The two assistant managers will oversee different departments of city government, among other roles. Bector will be charged with finding ways to make city government more innovative. Sauschuck will focus on external relations, especially at the State House in Augusta, including the perennial issues of municipal revenue sharing and school funding, along with waterfront issues and other economic initiatives, Jennings said.

More details are expected to be worked out in the coming weeks as Jennings, Bector and Sauschuck have time to hash out how to divide duties.

Jennings said the shift is also part of a broader plan to improve Portland’s customer service for residents and modernize its government process, which he hopes will boost the city’s standing in New England as regions compete for business and development opportunities.

“I think from my perspective coming in three years ago, I knew there were things that needed to be addressed,” Jennings said. “I don’t think I appreciated the volume of things that needed to be addressed.”

A ‘VERY DIFFICULT’ DECISION

Sauschuck said the decision to leave the police department was a personally difficult one.

“It was a brutal decision-making process for me,” Sauschuck said. “Not because of what awaits over there, but because of the family, the home that I have here. It’s been very difficult, but I am certainly excited about the next step.”

Assistant Chief Vern Malloch will take over as interim chief, Jennings said, and there is no immediate plan to begin the search for a permanent replacement, leaving Malloch at the reins for the foreseeable future.

Sauschuck served in the U.S. Marines before joining the Portland Police Department in 1997. He had a variety of roles in the department before he was named commander of the department in 2009 and assistant chief in 2010, then took on the role of chief in 2012. In 2015, he served as acting city manager.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck will retain his police pension when he retires this month and earn a salary of $140,000 in his new role in city government. He’ll be one of two assistants answering to City Manager Jon Jennings.

Sauschuck’s future role as the city’s representative working on issues in the Maine Legislature may overlap with the duties of the elected mayor.

A desire for more forceful and effective advocacy at the state and federal levels was one reason why Portland voted in 2010 to change from a council-appointed mayor to one that was popularly elected in a citywide vote.

Former Mayor Michael Brennan, elected in 2011, logged a lot of miles traveling to Augusta to work with the city’s legislative delegation against bills that would harm Portland – particularly efforts to cut general assistance and education funding.

Mayor Ethan Strimling has not prioritized state and federal advocacy since being elected in 2015, and instead has focused more on city policy initiatives.

MAYOR: ‘SEEMS LIKE A GOOD IDEA’

Strimling said he learned about Sauschuck’s move to City Hall on Thursday and said it “seems like a good idea.” He also said he has no issues with Sauschuck drawing a pension while collecting his salary as an assistant city manager.

“That’s the system we have in place,” Strimling said. “He deserves his pension from the police department.”

Double-dipping is not prohibited by state law, but still evokes strong criticism from taxpayers and is periodically debated in the Legislature. Defenders say rehiring retirees often makes sense because they can provide institutional knowledge, assume hard-to-fill positions and save money.

There are typically more than 1,000 people receiving salaries and pensions at the same time. The Portland Press Herald requested the current list earlier this year but the data has not yet been released.

Strimling also said he welcomes help representing the city at the State House and looks forward to speaking with the city manager about ways he and Sauschuck can work together to improve the city’s advocacy role. Although Strimling traveled to Augusta only a handful of times during the past session, he said he speaks with state legislators by phone and works with the Mayor’s Coalition to keep tabs on statewide issues as part of his duties.

“It’s very important to recognize the (state) legislative piece is just one piece of the mayor’s job,” Strimling said. “I certainly don’t go to Augusta as much as I think Mayor Brennan went to Augusta. My style is more around the policy development and getting the policy passed by the council and monitoring what’s going on in Augusta.”

Jennings and Strimling have disagreed frequently in the past, with some spats spilling into public view during City Council meetings, and their relationship remains contentious.

Asked whether he communicated with Strimling or sought his input about the structural changes, Jennings was dismissive.

“Oh, I don’t care,” Jennings said Thursday. “He has no say over this. This is exclusively my responsibility to obviously seek counsel from the City Council, but I have the authority to name these two positions.”

Jennings said he has discussed his moves with individual councilors and they have all been supportive.

The Maine Public Employees Retirement System did not immediately respond to a message seeking information about the amount of Sauschuck’s pension.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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