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Lott-a problems? 

Significant questions about city manager candidate Alfred Lott's tenure in Albany

After last week's contentious City Council meeting, the field of four candidates was narrowed to two: Acting City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and Alfred Lott, city manager of Albany, Ga.

Although Small-Toney was widely expected to be among the finalists for the position, the vote for Lott came as a surprise to many people familiar with the process because he had the least public administration experience of the four candidates who visited Savannah two weeks ago to meet with the public and City staff.

Lott has served as city manager of Albany since 2005, and resigned from the position in July of last year. He named his last day as July 2011, citing an interest in finishing the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year.

"This would give me an opportunity to lead city staff through the FY 2012 budget process and continue the city's lean spending practices through FY 2011," Lott wrote in a letter to Albany's Mayor Willie Adams, Jr.

His fiscal oversight has been one of the strengths cited by Albany city officials, and during his tenure he has bolstered the city's reserve fund, and delivered a $2 million budget surplus, despite the economic downturn.

But Lott's tenure in Albany has been marred by its fair share of controversy.

In his resignation letter, Lott wrote, "The primary reason for my decision to leave Albany involves the proximity to my immediate family."

The timing of his departure, however, fueled speculation that a year plagued by scandal - including charges brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by the city's former HR director and a guilty plea to felony charges of fraud by Downtown Manager Don Buie - pushed Lott to resign prior to the expiration of his contract.

$30,000 worth of fraud

In the summer of 2009, Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority's CEO Don Buie was indicted on 17 fraud-related charges after he pilfered approximately $30,000, according to a report from local NBC affiliate WALB, including payments to himself, his wife, and a woman with whom he was romantically involved.

Buie was hired by Lott through a headhunting firm, Slavin Management Associates, who did not include information that Buie had been convicted and served jail time for federal fraud charges in 1993.

Lott gave Buie an opportunity to resign, and then fired him when he refused to step down graciously.

Following the revelation that Slavin hadn't conducted a thorough background check on Buie, Lott told staff not to pursue additional background checks on other staff hired through the firm, despite a recommendation from the HR department, according to documents provided to Connect Savannah.

According to a public record request by Kevin Hogencamp of the Albany Journal, in August 2009, Alfred Lott, Don Buie, assistant city managers Wes Smith and James Taylor, former police chief John Younger and Planning Director Howard Brown had not had background checks prior to employment, and still did not have background checks in their personnel files.

Despite the outcome with Buie, in the documents he submitted to the search firm Savannah has used, Affion, describing his planning and development experience, Lott writes, "I hired a professional redevelopment manager...I revived the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority, [and] I convinced the City Commission to set aside $6 million for downtown redevelopment."

It was that $6 million from which Buie took funds.

Pending lawsuits

In July 2010, the City of Albany's director of human resources, Mary Lamont, resigned amidst a firestorm of accusations against Lott that included racial and sexual discrimination.

"I've come to the realization that my probability of success within the organization is nonexistent regardless of my contributions and achievements because of factors I cannot change, specifically my race, my sex, and my ethical standards," wrote Lamont, who went on to cite several examples of professional misconduct by Lott.

According to an article from the Albany Herald on July 14, 2010, "Lott said that the accusations are meritless and aren't supported by any evidence, and that he'd be willing to defend himself in court if it comes down to a suit."

There was, however, some evidence that seemed to support claims made by Mary Lamont, including audio tapes of conversations proving Lott lied about Lamont's discrimination complaints and that he falsely accused another employee of falsifying an employment application, according to reports by the Albany Journal.

Lamont has since filed formal complaints with the EEOC.

Albany Journal editor Kevin Hogencamp confirmed he had heard several of the tapes made by Lamont. Lott had not replied to an email requesting comment by the time this article went to press.

According to Lamont, reached by phone last week, she has more than 60 tapes, including six currently tied up in litigation of other cases involving wrongful termination or discrimination.

If one of Lamont's EEOC cases against Lott lands in court, that wouldn't be a first for Lott, who is being sued by the City of Albany's former finance director, Shirley Smith. That case is still active in Dougherty County Superior Court.

Smith was fired in 2006 and the case has been pending since. Currently, she is employed by the City of Savannah in the Leisure Services Department.

Unethical behavior

In the materials submitted as part of his consideration for the city manager position with the City of Savannah, obtained by Connect Savannah through a public record request last week, Lott describes his approach to leadership as one of his personal strengths.

"I have had more than my share of opportunities to hear disciplinary appeals," Lott writes. "When making these decisions, I have steadily taken the following decision factors into consideration: Nature of the offense, City Policy or Code, State and Federal Law, City exposure and risk."

However, Lott's record would seem to contradict such adherence to guidelines.

In the spring of 2010, the city's Weatherization Coordinator was discovered to have forged signatures on federal documents related to the Weatherization Assistance Program, and admitted to the crime.

The employee, Geraldine Fletcher, was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, which resulted in a recommendation for termination by City Attorney Nathan Davis.

"When the employee signed the applicant's name to this document, a document specifically designed to show the applicant's approval of repairs, and such act was done with intent to defraud, there is a sufficient basis for a felony charge," wrote Davis in an email dated April 7, 2010. "It is difficult to imagine anything less than termination as an appropriate response."

However, Fletcher was not fired by Lott, but allowed to quietly resign effective April 12, 2010. The resignation allowed Fletcher to receive pension benefits, and no formal legal action was taken.

Lott cites the management and administration of the Weatherization Assistance Program in the "Poverty Reduction Experience" section of his application materials for the City of Savannah position.

 

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Patrick Rodgers

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Connect Today 12.09.2016

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