City manager search: is there a way forward?

The short answer is no.

I didn’t listen to Bill Edwards’ interview with Mayor Johnson this morning on WTKS 1290, but some key quotes have already been posted in this piece by Lesley Conn on the Savannah Morning News website.

I won’t recap that here, but it’s clear that Mayor Johnson is not in a conciliatory mode and is giving the impression that anyone who objects to Rochelle Small-Toney as our city manager is a racist.

I did not start this blog to make political posts, but I’ve sort of felt compelled to. I spent quite a bit of time on posts about the four finalists, and I thought, based on their public experience, that Pat DiGiovanni and Wayne Cauthen were both strong candidates. (DiGiovanni’s name has been a part of the controversy for some time now, but too many members of the public jumped the gun in dismissing Cauthen, who ran Kansas City for 6 years and was eventually ousted after years of tension with a mayor whom he had beaten out for the city manager post).

Neither of my two top picks made the final pair, obviously. Still, I don’t necessarily think that either Rochelle Small-Toney or Alfred Lott are unprepared for the position or incapable of working with Savannah’s diverse citizenry. But the process has been fraught with serious questions, including from some aldermen, and the mayor just keeps making things worse with personal attacks on his critics and weak defenses of irregularities in the search process.

There’s not a good way out, but here’s the best one I can think of:

End the search now. Offer Small-Toney an 18 month contract at her current salary. Council then needs to get out of her way and let her do her job. She should eventually clear the air about the bond issue and she’ll have a year to work with community groups — time in which she can establish credibility in the job, or not. When we have a new mayor and council in January, their first decision can be whether to retain her or to launch a new search.

If the process continues with city visits, deliberations, etc., the political anger is just going to worsen, as the council’s every move will be scrutinized and dissenting members will speak out ever more vocally. If we started the search over, the scrutiny would be even worse and we probably couldn’t find a decent candidate at all given that the hire would be one of the final acts of an outgoing mayor and council.

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