JUST WHEN you thought you’d seen it all, along came last Friday’s "emergency meeting" of Savannah City Council in response to the Chatham County Commission’s vote earlier that morning to dissolve the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department and break it into two parts.
The meeting came hours after Savannah’s second triple homicide of the year.
It also confirmed everyone’s worst suspicion that our situation is even more dire than we knew. It was literally the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen local politicians associated with.
I have never been so deeply concerned for the future of this city of which I am a native.
The County Commission’s narrow 5-4 vote to start their own police department came without warning. It was understandable that Mayor Jackson and the rest of City Council up for reelection were caught unawares; we all were.
But not only did City Council not have a Plan B for their next move, they lacked a Plan C-Z as well.
Visibly panicking, Jackson and Council sounded as if this was the first time they’d considered even the most basic issues surrounding the heated, year-long negotiations to continue the merger.
Even this late in the game, with the County’s vote a done deal for several hours, City Attorney Brooks Stillwell embarrassingly had to instruct City Council members on the most rudimentary aspects of the negotiations.
City Manager Stephanie Cutter—by charter the most powerful single official in Savannah and whose job it is to take care of problems exactly such as this—looked on meekly like a deer in the headlights, adding little, seemingly understanding little, as Stillwell addressed her and City Council as if they were preschool students.
Though in all candor I’m not sure preschool students couldn’t do a better job.
The flop-sweat dripped as individual City Council members desperately grandstanded, as if there was a single thing to be done now that the County had finally called their bluff.
Mayor Jackson indignantly said, “We cannot continue to be the Council who has had to carry this burden all of this time.”
Mary Osborne actually suggested that the Chatham County Commission’s vote be disregarded (!), and that “we should get the citizens’ feedback.” Well that’s an idea!
Tony Thomas brought a motion to the floor symbolic of the colossal cluelessness of this City government.
Like a deeply delusional spouse who refuses to acknowledge their partner has already filed for divorce, Thomas’s motion was to reaffirm the City’s commitment to the police merger, and essentially instruct the County Commission to reverse their vote and continue paying for the merger through the end of 2016!
The merger the County had bitterly voted to dissolve for good hours before.
Like drowning shipwreck victims grasping for a floating piece of flotsam, City Council members floundered onto the toothless and farcical suggestion.
Tom Bordeaux—who alone among incumbents has the realism and sense of honor to not seek reelection—was the only dissenting vote, cast to express his disgust with the entire process.
What happens next, assuming the County Commission doesn’t have some kind of weird machinations of their own to reverse their vote (not out of the question by any means)?
Taxes go up for everyone. City taxes, to make up for the shortfall in police funding from the County, and County taxes, to pay for costs of their brand-new police department.
Chief Lumpkin, barring drastic action, will likely resign despite his assurances he won’t. What else is he supposed to say?
If he does go, I don’t think a soul would blame him.
Officer vacancies in the City will worsen. Any officer who can will run for the exits now that there’s no guarantee that even the new, deeply flawed salary structure will remain intact when the dust settles.
Look: The City of Savannah is broken. This election you have the opportunity to begin undoing the damage. (Thanks to those of you who voted early!)
Let’s look at a case study:
Alderman John Hall is a perfect example of not only how disastrous the current Council is, but of how each citizen’s vote matters.
John Hall has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce and the Police Benevolent Association despite a record which includes three DUIs, a shoplifting charge, and misdemeanor unemployment fraud.
John Hall has told constituents his district is the safest in town. The same district where running daylight gun battles are now a routine occurrence.
John Hall’s wife Connie Hall is a member of the Savannah-Chatham School Board.
John Hall works for the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools.
In September of this election year he got a promotion from Media Clerk —a part time job paying under $20,000 a year—to Supervisor of Custodial Services.
His new salary is $49,500.
(Husband/wife elected teams are now commonplace in Savannah/Chatham County. These nepotistic teams are, while legal, a clear and present source of corruption. In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Hall’s dual elected roles, Alderwoman Estella Shabazz is married to County Commissioner Yusuf Shabazz, due in court for a hit-and-run of a City worker. Assistant Police Chief Julie Tolbert is married to Terry Tolbert, head of the Economic Opportunity Authority and also..... wait for it.... Chairman of the Tax Assessors Board! The list goes on and on. Nepotism is killing Savannah, and we will take a closer look at the issue in coming months.)
Here’s the thing:
In 2011 John Hall was elected by 18 votes.
Not a typo—that’s eighteen, as in the number between 17 and 19.
Given all the Council votes that have been taken and City contracts doled out since then, what do you think the potential market value of each one of those 18 votes might be?
The difference between success and catastrophe often rests on the razor’s edge.
You can be the difference.
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