Who should be Savannah’s interim city manager?

Short answer: I have no idea.

Long answer:
Rochelle Small-Toney is likely to resign today — or certainly before Savannah City Council formally removes her in their series of meetings tomorrow.

But who should take over on an interim basis while the mayor and aldermen decide on the next steps?

Let’s look first at the organizational chart for the city (click on the link or click on the screencap below for a slightly larger version):

So directly under the city manager are the following: two assistant city managers (Stephanie Cutter and Pete Shonka), the bureau chief for Public Facilities, Events and Facilities (Joe Shearouse I think), as well as the police and fire chiefs and the Information Technology Bureau. And note the three other departments listed in the same box as the City Manager: Public Information Office, Auditing, and Finance.

So the city insiders comprise a relatively thin list, but city finance director Dick Evans would be an obvious possibility, if he wants the interim position. Joy Wilkinson, whom I know nothing about, is apparently in charge of auditing. Bret Bell — a clear communicator and very smart guy — is head of public information.

The two assistants city managers are relatively new in their positions — Cutter replaced Small-Toney and Shonka took Chris Morrill’s slot (Morrill is now city manager of Roanoke).

I’ve heard generally positive things about Cutter, but I should note that she was in the direct chain of command above the city’s troubled Purchasing Department, as was the Management Services Bureau chief Sean Brandon. I don’t know what direct control they had over the spiraling problems in purchasing, but if we expect an interim city manager to oversee a full accounting of those issues, anyone in that chain would be a problematic choice.

I know Pete Shonka slightly — he was a regular member along with me and about a dozen others on the technical committee that met regularly while MPC staff was working on the first draft of the Unified Zoning Ordinance. He seems like a smart, thoughtful, and professional city employee. I have no idea, however, if he would make a good interim city manager — or if he would even be interested in a slot like that.

The mayor and council could turn to a longtime city employee like Shearouse, which on its face seems like a solid idea, or they could reach further down into the ranks.

Or maybe they should look for an interim from outside the current city bureaucracy — a retired CEO, perhaps, or just a well-regarded member of the community who could steer the ship adequately. I know it’s a much smaller organization, but remember how Cathy Solomons stepped in as interim head of the Telfair last year.

We don’t want someone so inexperienced that the mayor and council are compelled to get involved in the day-to-day workings of the city, but there’s nothing wrong with a few months of just a good manager — someone who can let all the other links in the above chain do their jobs.

I feel fairly strongly that the interim city manager should not be permitted to apply for the permanent post.