Savannah city manager candidate Pat DiGiovanni: a variety of experience makes him an intriguing possibility

This is the second post dealing with some of my initial impressions of the finalists for the city manager position in Savannah. I have already written about Wayne Cauthen, who seems an extremely viable candidate to me.

You can read the official short bios of each candidate here. And some of my other thoughts on the city manager search here.

Pat DiGiovanni has been the deputy city manager in San Antonio since 2006. With 1.4 milllion people, San Antonio is one of the largest cities in the country — ten times the size of Savannah. The metro area of over 2 million is almost seven times the size of our metro area. The city is about 60% Hispanic, while Savannah is close to 60% black. I think it’s fair to say that DiGiovanni has spent the last four years working in a large, complex, multi-ethnic city, which seems like an obvious plus.

Lots of search hits come up for the other finalists because of their most recent experience is as a city manager. As a deputy, DiGiovanni is not in the news as much since he has been in San Antonio, although his name is attached to a number of firm but conciliatory statements. In reading this article about a special tax district that is not generating revenue, I was obviously reminded of our own Savannah River Landing debacle. The article concludes with DiGiovanni advocating ending the special district:
The new package, for a lesser amount, could include street, drainage and other infrastructure projects along Broadway. But Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni warned TIRZ board members Thursday that – if the taxing district remains – critics could hammer on the question of why the city would use debt for work that a special district is set up to pay for.
DiGiovanni recommends dissolving the TIRZ.
“It has underperformed, and we’ve lost four significant years,” he said. “Everyone believed that as soon as we had a master plan and started the TIRZ that developers would be knocking at our door. Then the recession hit and it just slowed everything down.”

Here’s an interesting editorial from the San Antonio Express-News about issues of history and tourism in thinking about Alamo Plaza. DiGiovanni comes across well in public statements like these: DiGiovanni thinks re-zoning and other changes could be put in motion gradually, partly by involving property owners and the citizens of San Antonio. He said a master-planning process aimed at “restoring the reverence” of the plaza could lead to a grander vision with broad public support.

Before coming to San Antonio, DiGiovanni had a number of positions in Kalamazoo, including city manager for eight years, and before that he got some relevant city government experience in Surfside Beach and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

DiGiovanni resigned his position in Kalamazoo after several issues — high level staff who apparently acted on matters without council approval, accusations of discrimination by one of those employees, a generalized anger from the council about the city bureaucracy. It’s by no means clear that DiGiovanni would have been forced out if he had not left, but the suggestion in this piece, which includes DiGiovanni’s eloquent valedictory remarks as he resigned, is that the city manager simply thought the air needed to be cleared. That’s what he says in today’s Savannah Morning News.

As I noted in my post about Cauthen, if we consider previous contentiousness with elected officials to be disqualifying, then we won’t be able to find anyone currently in city management to fill our position.

I like DiGiovanni’s diverse resume. He is certainly a strong candidate for a city manager position in a city like Savannah.