City manager saga continues

The saga continues.

Lesley Conn at the Savannah Morning News has been doing some great work covering the ins and outs of the city’s flawed search for a city manager. Her latest piece, Savannah city manager deliberations near, is required reading for those who want to get the clearest possible picture of a very muddy situation.

Obviously, Lesley has some confidential sources close to the deliberations. She notes that most of the attention among council since the forum and interviews earlier this week has focused on Rochelle Small-Toney and Pat DiGiovanni, whose resume I talk about here.

Wayne Cauthen or Alfred Lott could still emerge as top contenders, I think, once deliberations among the aldermen get going in earnest. Also of note in today’s article are the articulate defenses of his company’s work by the head of the search firm Affion. I’ve consistently defended the quality of the candidates, so I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions about that.

By the way, since I last posted anything on this issue, acting city manager Small-Toney has obtained the mandated bond for $50,000, although it’s still unclear how it was paid for or why she was denied one previously. Lesley’s article today contains links to that news and other related information.

“Well we know DiGiovanni won’t get the job” has become a common refrain in public comments this week on Facebook and in comments like some today at the end of Lesley’s piece. The presumption in such remarks is that since 5 of 9 members of city council are black, we are de facto going to end up with a black city manager. Anyone familiar with the personalities on city council, especially mavericks like Clifton Jones, would have to acknowledge that no outcome is certain.

Yes, I think Small-Toney remains the odds-on favorite, but she’s hardly a shoe-in. And it’s worth noting that minority city managers are common around the country — look at Lott and Cauthen. If we end up with a black city manager, it would be duly noted as “historic,” but it would hardly be earth-shattering.

In this post from Jan. 14, I talk about Small-Toney’s brief tenure a bit, and I note the racism and occasional sexism present in public dialogue about her. Well, take a look at how quickly the comments after today’s piece in the SMN turned racist. The political leaders deserve the bulk of the blame for this deeply flawed process, but white Savannahians who engage in or tacitly approve of obviously racist comments are making the polarization worse — and are making it more likely that race might be the determining factor in council’s vote.

I sure hope we can move beyond such rhetoric and look harder at the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. If the broader Savannah public is not happy with the choice — or if council is deeply divided — then we might just need to wait and begin the process again after a new council and mayor are in office a year from now. That is NOT a good option, since it’s possible that 8 of the 9 aldermen could be back and as a long delay could only further raise questions about Small-Toney’s leadership (it doesn’t seem fair to her or to the public for the key leader in the city to be in a temporary role for two years or more).

But delay, for which Savannah has in its history showed considerable skill, might be the best option if council does not come to a pretty clear consensus.

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