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Best of Savannah: Politics and Public Affairs 

Best Local Scandal

The City Manager Search

This one just about had it all: open meeting violations, confusion over a personal bond, questionable candidate search protocols, strife on City Council, yelling in the hallways of City Hall, and race cards flying around all over the place. Lord have mercy!

The only thing missing was sex, but... well, maybe that’s for the best, eh?

Despite all the hubbub, ironically there was no surprise about the outcome. In the end, Rochelle Small–Toney was confirmed as Savannah City Manager, exactly as everyone suspected she would be from the outset. However, she (and we) now need to deal with a dramatically polarized citizenry and likely a new City Council next year which will have a lot of new faces — some of them likely propelled to office precisely by voter reaction to the scandal itself.

Runner-up: St. Patrick's Day Youtube video of police misconduct

Best Local Activist

Tom Kohler

The Executive Director of Savannah-Chatham Citizen Advocacy is the bearded and bespectacled face of positive community involvement.

Runner-up: Ruel Joyner

Best Nonprofit Organization

American Second Harvest

In coastal Georgia, about 74,000 children are at risk for missing meals due to family income. Elderly people and working poor in the region are also at risk for "food insecurity."

America's Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia serves as a middle man to alleviate hunger in 21 southeast Georgia counties, serving about 116,000 people a year.

"Our method is to take food out to people where they need it, instead of having them come here," says Karen Franklin, Director of Marketing and Development. "If people have food problems they are also experiencing barriers to transportation."

Here's how Second Harvest does it: Kids Café serves 2500 hot suppers to at risk children in Savannah every day at supervised after school programs. The Summer Feeding Program serves 3000 children a day, "when free or reduced price [school] lunches aren't available to kids."

Through Congregate Feeding, partner agencies like the Salvation Army and battered women's shelters take free food from Second Harvest to prepare and serve their clients. Food pantries at churches distribute canned and other unprepared food. Brown Bag for the Elderly distributes 1500 bags of food a month to seniors.

Each day, Second Harvest has trucks on the road with its Mobile Food Pantry, "reaching those rural areas that don't have social service agencies like we have in Savannah. Trucks are loaded with 20,000 pounds of food. Volunteers meet us at a community center to offload the food and put it into bags. They distribute about 60 pounds per household."

The food is donated from grocers, produce wholesalers, hotels, and community groups. "We work with the grocery stores every day," says Franklin. "They are a great resource for food that is close to its expiration date but still edible."

The Culinary Training Program at Grace's Kitchen is a food-related employment program that launched in 2003 and graduated 92 students in 2010. For 18 weeks, students learn food sanitation and handling, measurements, and in-kitchen practical knowledge while cooking the 2500 meals that go out to Kids' Café each day.

Eric Jordan, a cook at Rocks on the River at the Bohemian Hotel, completed the Culinary Training Program just in time to get his job at the Bohemian when they opened in 2009.

"One part was the class phase, the second part was the cooking in the kitchen phase," says Jordan. "It had the ServSafe Program, so that we could get qualified. It's a program on sanitation and food borne illnesses. Each restaurant has to have at least one person working there that's ServSafe qualified."

Jordan recalls the job seeking support that the training provided. "they taught us about job skills. At the time I was unemployed. How to present yourself when going for a job, how to stay positive and stay focused. It was a good learning experience" that's served as a foundation for what he's doing now at the Bohemian.

"We cook anything from pasta dishes to specialty pizzas to a seafood platter," says Jordan. " Everything we do we make from scratch. Everybody is cross trained to work any specific station, and then we put a little love into it." -- Robin Wright Gunn

Runner-Up: All Walks of Life Inc.

Best Legislator

Best Conservative

Jack Kingston

The longtime favorite in Georgia's 1st District, Kingston is a member of the all-powerful Appropriations Committee, which directs federal spending. We like to see him drop by Bill Maher's show too.

Runner-up (for both): Buddy Carter

Best City Council Member

Jeff Felser

Does a big win in our ‘Best Of' foreshadow victory in this fall's mayoral race? We can't say for sure, but we heard a rumor that his beard is the source of his magical political powers.

Runner-up: Tony Thomas

Best County Commissioner

David M. Gellatly

If it weren't for the ‘M,' you might think his middle name was ‘Public Service.' Gellatly has represented the 6th district for eleven years, and previously spent two decades as the Chief of Police in Savannah.

Runner-up: Dean Kicklighter

Best School Board Member

Dr. Joe Buck

The President of the SCCPSS School Board for the last five years, Buck has spent decades working as an educator and administrator.

Runner-up: Floyd Adams Jr.

Best Liberal

Joe Steffen

The local attorney and longtime spokesman for the Chatham County Democrats is a perennial favorite in the category, but actually had to leave his partisan post to become lead counsel for Savannah State University this year.

Runner-up: John Barrow

Best City Employee

Richard Griffin

Griffin is the Fire Marshal in charge of new building inspections and plan reviews. Far from the most visible aspect of city employees, he makes sure buildings are planned with safety in mind. The next time you're not trampled during a fire drill, send him a card.

Runner-up: Marty Johnson

Best Judge

The Honorable Louisa Abbot

After winning in 2008, Abbot humbly stated that she didn't understand why she would win "Best Judge" considering the number of experienced and dedicated judges in the city. She must be doing something right though, because she's won three of the last four years.

Runner-up: Judge James Bass

Best Firefighter

Brian Muenzenmeyer

This 40-year-old Iowa native has been with Savannah Fire and Emergency Services for a little over 11 years. Now a Master Firefighter, he serves on Engine 7 on Eisenhower Dr.

Brian is married to Shannon and they have five children together, ages 17-23. He was inspired to become a firefighter by Shannon's father, who encouraged him to apply for a job with the fire department following Brian's 10 years of service in the U.S. Army.

He says the best parts of the job are the people he works with and knowing that every day he comes to work he’s going to provide a service to the citizens of Savannah.

Between job and family, Brian doesn't have a lot of off-time, but in his spare hours he enjoys riding his motorcycle as a member of the Red Knights Motorcycle Club for firefighters, which focuses on charitable activities.

Runner-up: Peter Griffin

Best Cop

Captain Larry Branson

This Savannah native is most well-known as the point man in charge of public safety for the St. Patrick's Day festivities. He was recently a finalist for the position of chief of Tybee police.

Best Paramedic

Casey Jones

Not to be confused with the local TV anchor — not to mention the legendary railroad conductor — this Casey Jones saves lives as a member of Southside Fire Department’s EMS unit.

Runner-up: Jonathan McCrary

 

 

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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