Unrest in Savannah discourages future leaders
Published: Thursday, February 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, February 3, 2011 07:02
Many students have many different reasons for attending college. Some come for the intellectual stimulation and others for the opportunity to duck a bum economy. Many students, however, come to college for a chance to get ahead in life once they leave.
This last group looks to the current civic leaders as barometers of life after college.
The leaders in any field, whether of industries or arts, are the bellwethers of occupational success of that field's new members. The atmosphere of a business determines whether or not it can be a healthy part of a person's life.
So when the community leaders of Savannah obviously have issues with their municipal manner of operation, what does that say about the quality of the life of those exiting students who look to make Savannah a part of their futures?
Around 6,000 of Armstrong's students are commuters. Many of these students live in Savannah. They are already affected by the city government's lack of leadership. But let's take a step back.
About eight months ago, Rochelle Small-Toney took the mantle of interim city manager for Savannah after the previous city manager, Michael Brown, stepped down.
The position of city manager isn't some little appointment.
In the 1950s, Savannah adopted the practice of using city managers, officials who effectively run the city. City managers are single-handedly the most powerful people in the cities they run.
After filling the vacant spot, Small-Toney then proceeded to not pay the $50,000 bond required of all people who take the city manager position in Savannah.
This wasn't some oversight. The bond that she planned on setting up, required for insurance purposes was denied. Much later, after the bond's absence was exposed, she actually received a new one.
Small-Toney began to get a pretty bad rap, between the bond and the various issues that Brown left behind for her to deal with.
Meanwhile, Mayor Otis Johnson and the city council were searching for a permanent replacement for Brown, whose 15 years on the job left big shoes to fill.
The council dredged up three more candidates after their search: Pat DiGiovanni, Alfred Lott and Wayne Cauthen.
Current Albany City Manager Lott, who has had various city positions in Maryland and some military experience joined DiGiovanni, who was previously the deputy city manager of San Antonio and the city manager of Kalamazoo, Mich. Cauthen was the city manager of Kansas City, Mo., for six years and spent several years as a part of Denver's city government.
Of the four, city council selected Lott and Small-Toney to further consider for the position.
The heavyweights, the two who had handled cities with metropolitan areas with millions of people, were out.
Many people cried foul when these two popular choices were eliminated in favor of Lott, who's being forced to resign as manager of a city half Savannah's size, and a local politician with a tarnished image.
Of course, Small-Toney looked confident from the start. A lot of people hold that she isn't a good match, but she has been doing the job for over half of a year. It would be remiss not to include her in the selection at all.
But is she right for Savannah?
According to a Savannah Morning News article from last year, Small-Toney requested a paint job for the city manager's office — almost immediately after being named interim — until Johnson told her to stop. This was long before the other candidates were even a twinkle in an alderman's eye.
However, the elimination of DiGiovanni and Cauthen brought up two more issues that prey on the minds of Savannahians: racism and cronyism.
It is possible that there are good reasons why the candidates who had the most experience in managing large cities and promoting economic growth were both excluded.
We probably will never know them.
The reason is that while the public was showing concern for the validity of the very hiring process, city council was playing the eldritch mechanics of closed-door meetings.
Against a policy that requires most decisions requiring votes to be open to the public. The council decided DiGiavonni and Cauthen's eliminations behind closed doors, and they forgot to even send the invitation - an act that could be against state law.
According to the Savannah Morning News, the argument was that the council, which has nine members, split into groups that were too small to form a quorum so that the decision was made out of the public eye.
The city's attorney, James Blackburn, seems to have an answer for every allegation against the council's closed-door meeting. It's too bad that now Georgia's attorney general, Sam Olens, is even looking into the possibility that our city council just pulled something illegal.
The most appalling thing about this entire debacle, however, is the allegation of racism. With DiGiovanni eliminated, the remaining contenders are black. While normal, 21st-century adults should not be even entertaining the possibility of racism, its ghost reared its ugly head in a city council meeting of all places. The allegation divided the council down racial lines, with the four white candidates saying that DiGiovanni's elimination was a deliberately orchestrated act by the Mayor Johnson.
Alderman Tony Thomas said in the city council meeting on Jan. 26 that it "cannot be denied" that the council was divided by race. Thomas also commented on the unorthodox prestidigitation of the council's rules by describing the process itself as "piss-poor."
Alderman Jeff Felser in the same meeting said that he had given up on trying to understand the process.
And somewhere in Mayor Pro Tem Edna Jackson's sermon of a statement, she expressed regret that the public would never get to see how the deliberation meeting unfolded in a completely legal manner, that the council could not "get the real truthfulness out there."