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.

2 comments for “City manager saga continues

  1. January 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    I love how in the article, Van Johnson is quoted directly as saying that one of the things which impressed him most about the search firm director’s presentation was that the man was able to respond to questions about each of these candidates without looking directly at his notes.

    Sorry to use potty-mouth on your blog, Bill, but Van, really? Are you shitting me?

    That’s the kind of criteria that really screams “good job” to you?

    I would assume that the least a guy could do after being paid tens of thousands of dollars to compile data on a handful of candidates (and apparently, not very well it seems), would be to cough the highlights of their resumes back up with relative ease – especially when knowing you were about to be grilled by your clients.

    This is the kind of blinkard, Phillistine pig-ignorance that has come to define the methodology which has run rampant in our City Hall for far too long.

    Let me get this straight – it’s a requirement that Savannah can’t (or won’t) hire a City Manager who does not have a Master’s Degree in Public Administration?

    Then why is Wayne Cauthen even included in this batch of contenders?

    Why is any one of us wasting a moment even considering his other credentials?

    What is going on with any of this that doesn’t at least carry the taint of incompetence or of a fix?

    Instead of calling the GBI to find out who spilled the beans, they need to call the Better Business Bureau to help them get their money back from Affion, and then start fresh. If Small-Toney is ACTUALLY legally eligible to keep her temporary position, then let her stay till they find a permanent replacement.

    If not, then fire her ASAP and promote the next person in line to hold that position. Sound like a really bad idea? Well, sometimes folks just have to take their lumps, deal with the hand they’ve dealt themselves and take the consequences of their actions or inactions.

    The overwhelming presumption that is not implicitly written in any of these SMN articles, but is hollered about ad nauseum in less than polite terms by the crackers (yep, said it) who leave nasty, thinly-veiled race-baiting bromides in the paper’s online Comments section, is that the black community in Savannah will automatically vote again like mindless automatons for Van, Edna, Clifton or anyone else already in office who looks vaguely like themselves.

    I would really like to think that is not the case, however a longstanding joke like Van seemingly continues to enjoy broad support from his base regardless of how embarrassingly he conducts himself in public.

    Is it not possible that there are ANY other candidates from that part of our community that might come forward as a truly viable alternative – who are also noticeably more honest, open, polite and demonstrably interested in uniting Savannah’s disparate factions, rather than dividing them?

  2. bill dawers
    January 26, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for the intense comment, Jim.

    In my posts about the individual candidates, I said that at least two of them were obviously strong choices for our city manager position. In a piece in Connect today,, Patrick Rodgers writes about the original mandate from council in terms of job qualifications, about city manager positions generally, and about the information that Affion provided. It’s a great piece of analysis that addresses many of your questions.

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