City manager search lingers on

In my column for this upcoming Sunday in the Savannah Morning News, I’m writing about some of the issues of race and leadership that the city is confronting right now.

Today, as many of you probably already know, Mayor Johnson proposed a compromise very similar to what I suggested in a post on this blog last week: City manager search: is there a way forward?

The Mayor proposed ending the search, extending Rochelle Small-Toney’s current acting/interim position subject to quarterly review, and letting the new mayor and council launch a fresh search in 2012. (I suggested a compromise position that was actually a little more favorable to Small-Toney: offering her an 18-month contract so that a new council could decide in January if they even wanted to do a new search.)

Mayor Johnson’s proposal failed 5-4, but NOT strictly along racial lines. Three white members of council and two black members voted against the compromise. According to the SMN’s Lesley Conn: “The divided vote was prompted by concerns that some members on council are trying to backpedal on a previous vote requiring the city manager to obtain a $1 million bond.”

[UPDATE, Friday, 2/11/11: For full recap, see “City councils shoots down compromises”.]

Whatever the politics are at this point, we are one vote away from reaching a workable position from which we can move forward. Starting the search over at this point would mean 1) hiring the city’s most important official in the midst of a citywide election (really, how many qualified candidates from around the country would put themselves in that position?) and 2) an ugly, ugly period of re-scrutinizing the entire search process.

To those who apparently fear that the city will suffer under another year of Small-Toney, I would say the following:

  • Most of the anger directed at her should be directed at the political leadership or at the previous city manager.
  • If Small-Toney has angered some city employees, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  • The city bureaucracy that she inherited was hardly streamlined and efficient — I heard endless complaints about it.

I’m a little confused why those supporting the mayor’s compromise could not muster at least, say, 6 or 7 votes (or even 5!), but we are very close to a sensible decision.

On a related topic, a friend asked for my thoughts about last night’s racially charged town hall meeting (SMN coverage: “Town hall attendees: Division tearing city apart”). I don’t really have any novel thoughts on it.

I didn’t attend, watch, or listen; I went to a long-range planning meeting for the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, which I’m sure was a much better use of my time. I read many news reports and Facebook posts about the town hall after the fact and got all the information I felt I needed. Maybe there was a cathartic element to it, but I frankly thought the meeting should have been canceled.

Why have a town hall if everyone is already entrenched in his or her position?