City officials back off fast on threat to fire Lovett or other employees who respond to media

I made a lengthy post yesterday about Savannah city manager Rochelle Small-Toney’s threat to fire Chief Willie Lovett if he speaks to the media again without authorization.

That threat brought a firestorm of criticism of Small-Toney, and by extension of the mayor and others who supported her in the contentious hiring process. There were over 100 comments on the Savannah Morning News piece and Facebook was lit up with anger.

Small-Toney backed off fast. See Lesley Conn’s follow up piece in todays SMN: City: Chief Willie Lovett free to talk.

For me, the key passages come toward the end:

In an email Friday, [city public information director Bret] Bell offered an explanation of Small-Toney’s comment. Her message was: “I have a policy. If my bureau chiefs deliberately decide not to follow policy, they will not work for me for long.”

[. . .]

City procedures ask bureau chiefs to contact Bell when media ask for an interview. Notification can happen after the interview, Bell said.

Bell and the police department spokesman, Julian Miller, were aware of the Morning News’ interview with Lovett before the story ran. Both were asked to provide additional information about repairs to police headquarters.

So, lots of damage done to Small-Toney’s reputation, which had been in improving as additional members of the public found that she “gets it,” as one downtown business owner said recently.

And no resolution, obviously, on the core issues that I touched upon yesterday in discussing police precinct buildings:

  • The current SPLOST was to raise money for an arena/public safety headquarters. (Who knows why?) With the arena now largely defunded and years away, what’s up with the funding for the new headquarters?
  • Did it ever make sense to buy that dilapidated strip mall to move two precincts to?
  • Why can’t contractors hired by the city fix the roof problems at the downtown precinct, which had to be evacuated because of mold, and at the historic headquarters, which has apparently had “millions” spent on its roof, according to former chief Gellatly?