Savannah city manager candidate Alfred Lott: media questions and firm responses

I’ve already written blurbs about two of Savannah’s finalists for the city manager position. I think both Wayne Cauthen and Pat DiGiovanni have impressive resumes. I write about Cauthen here and about DiGiovanni here. I strongly encourage you to take a look at those posts — I really do see both of them as viable candidates who could be great fits for Savannah, given their experience.

I have a few general remarks about Rochelle Small-Toney’s tenure as acting city manager here. Like many other Savannahians, I am concerned about whether Small-Toney is the right pick for the job — in part, as I say in the post, because political missteps by elected officials have compounded broad public displeasure. The latest controversy regarding the city’s insurance company’s refusal to bond Small-Toney for $50,000 remains unresolved as I write this.

The last of four finalists for the position is Alfred Lott, whose brief bio you can read here.

Lott is currently city manager of Albany, Georgia (population about 75,000); before that he had city positions in Takoma Park (a D.C. suburb of about 20,000) and the City of College Park (population of about 25,000 in 2000), both in Maryland. He has an extensive background in the military, dating back to the mid-1970s, including work in media relations.

It’s an interesting and serious resume, but I’ll confess to being concerned about the relatively small size of the cities in which Lott has worked. While Lott is currently still on the job in Albany, he submitted his resignation, effective in summer 2011, way back in July 2010.

This rather ugly column from last July in the weekly The Albany Journal, Lott’s Final Days?, raises some obvious red flags. Now, I have been quick to defend the candidates for their run-ins with political leaders in cities where they have worked, but there are a number of similar articles from The Albany Journal that raise troubling questions, including this one involving accusations of discrimination. [UPDATE: The Albany Journal consistently states that Lott was “forced out,” although I have not found that language elsewhere so far. I also should add that I’m a bit concerned by some issues regarding The Albany Journal’s coverage, like the misspelling of three proper nouns in this very short piece about Lott being a finalist for the position here.]

The Albany Herald, the daily newspaper, writes about his resignation here. An interesting op-ed piece from last August quotes extensively from an interview with Lott, who is described by some as polarizing and by others as no-nonsense, fair, principled, and supportive. The second column in the series is especially interesting, I think, and can be found here. Lott has some pointed comments about negative media coverage: “When I first came here, I got caught in political situations where some of the editorials (about Lott and the city government) were factually incorrect,” the Albany city manager said during a recent conversation. “That’s why I went on (local TV talk shows) and on Albany State’s TV station, to let people hear stuff from me [. . .] The Albany media market is larger than the volume would dictate; there are too many media outlets for a town this size. So the reporters are desperate for stories, and you have situations where the discipline of a low-level employee becomes front-page news. Some poor guy is reprimanded for a job-related incident, and he’s humiliated by having it become a huge story.”

The piece concludes with editor Carlton Fletcher’s remarks: Certainly a lot can happen between now and July 30 of next year, but I’ve got a feeling when Lott’s tenure is looked at with the advantage of hindsight, many of his detractors will have to admit that Lott’s contributions far outweighed any perceived shortcomings.

Savannahians concerned about our budget might find Lott attractive in one regard: Albany finished FY2010 (which ended in June) in the black: City ends year with $1.9M surplus.

Perhaps if he were to get the job in Savannah, Lott would see ways to avoid being a polarizing figure. Perhaps his often-mentioned confidence would make him the perfect person to make hard choices regarding any number of matters. It would be interesting to hear him address such issues, especially since his previous city management work is in places much smaller than Savannah. But, as a member of the media, I have to be concerned about comments like the one above that “there are too many media outlets for a town this size.” It would be interesting to hear Lott put that statement in a broader context.

1 comment for “Savannah city manager candidate Alfred Lott: media questions and firm responses

  1. Karen
    January 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks for the breakdown Bill. I have been a little discouraged by Savannah politics- and I fear that this search for city manager has done little to restore my faith. I think we are in desperate need of a top to bottom shake up.

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