Savannah city manager search down to two: Rochelle Small-Toney and Alfred Lott

I’m a bit surprised by the quickness with which the already-small field of four city manager finalists has been whittled to two.

From an update this afternoon in the Savannah Morning News, “Council names 2 Savannah city manager finalists”: The Savannah City Council has selected Acting City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and Alfred Lott, Albany’s city manager, as the two finalists for the Savannah city manager job.

Apparently there was open dissent in the executive session of council, with Mary-Ellen Sprague, Larry Stuber, and Jeff Felser already apparently on record as opposed to the choices left in the field. There should be much more in tomorrow’s Savannah Morning News.

This dissent, which I had hoped could be avoided through consensus-building by city council, is bad, bad news for the city. And it’s also really bad news for whichever of the candidates gets the city manager position. He or she will have to face widespread distrust, especially among white Savannahians who think that race has been a determining factor from the very beginning.

As I noted in a blog post last week about Alfred Lott, I think there are some obvious questions about whether his experiences as city manager of Albany, Ga., have really prepared him for our post. In terms of experience, I thought he was a weaker candidate than either Wayne Cauthen or Pat DiGiovanni.

Now, I’m quick to add here that I don’t know Alfred Lott, and I do think the city needs a breath of fresh air. Comments about his character in general make me think he might be the type of person who could make some of the hard, no-nonsense decisions that will have to be made as budgets get tighter and tighter.

And I think Rochelle Small-Toney could bring a lot of things to the table, but I fear that the contentious political process has turned some members of the public against her even more than against the outside candidates, who have been viewed widely with skepticism. Patrick Rodgers has a great piece on these political dimensions in this week’s Connect Savannah.

We are now set up for a particularly tense lead-up to this November’s mayoral election. It’s very likely that we’ll have a city manager who has members of the current and the future council who would vote almost immediately to terminate his or her employment. This is a rocky situation, and whoever gets the post will need to be patient, conciliatory, communicative, and extremely responsive to public needs to be effective at all in the job.

With all the big issues Savannah is facing right now, it sure would be nice if we were not facing these political tensions so fraught with issues of race.