The prolonged and divisive search for a permanent City Manager has come to end, although true resolution remains distant. At last week’s City Council meeting, Rochelle Small–Toney was approved by a 5–4 vote along racial lines, and is expected to receive a formal offer for the job at the council meeting on March 10.
For the second meeting in a row, the City Manager search was not on the actual agenda, but the large public turnout — which included bikers, preachers, mayoral candidates, business owners and the media — was indication of what was expected.
The agenda’s omission was quickly rectified by Alderman Van Johnson who added two items; discussion of the city manager search and appointment of the city manager.
Alderman Jeff Felser offered a motion to reconsider the Mayor’s compromise from the previous meeting — to keep Small–Toney as Acting City Manager until January 2012. It was rejected by a vote of 5–4, signaling an end to what had been viewed by many as the unifying option.
The City’s department heads submitted a signed letter clarifying some “confusion” over the use of their input on the City Manager candidates, which was not intended to be a ranking system.
Alderman Larry Stuber also sought to amend the minutes, and clarify his remarks, which had prompted the letter from the bureau chiefs.
“You didn’t rank them, I did,” Stuber said. “I stand by that ranking.”
Next up was a second reading of the proposed ordinance requiring the City Manager to have a million dollar surety bond, which had previously passed first reading with a unanimous vote. Alderman Johnson motioned to table the second reading, which put it on hold indefinitely.
Mayor Johnson said he wanted to announce for the record that Small–Toney has been approved for a public official bond of $1 million. He showed the letter to the room, adding, “There should be no more discussion.”
Since late January, the bond issue, and confusion surrounding it, had been central to those opposing Small–Toney’s qualification for the position. The reason for her initially being rejected remains secret.
As discussion over the necessity of the bonding ordinance continued, the rift between members caused by weeks of often-personal debate back-and-forth showed no signs of healing.
In the middle of an exchange between the Mayor and Alderman Felser about unity, Alderman Tony Thomas interjected a question to the Mayor.
“Did you order the investigation or not?” He asked, referring to the Internal Affairs investigation conducted by police into the information leaked to the media by a City employee.
Under the City’s charter, the Mayor does not have the authority to request action by the Chief of Police.
When Johnson wouldn’t dignify his question, Thomas lashed out, asking whether he had “the courage” to respond — a comment that caused an audible gasp from the audience.
A motion to invalidate the entire search process was introduced, and then amended to become a motion to “end the City Manager search.”
That passed unanimously, setting the stage for the 5–4 vote to formally nominate Small–Toney.
Following the meeting, Small–Toney was greeted with hugs and applause from community members as she slipped quietly back to her office.
Awaiting a formal offer from council, and Small–Toney accepting the position, the conclusion of the search seems to have left as many questions as answers.
The one that looms the largest is how, after months of protracted debate, the city as a whole addresses a cadre of issues raised by the process, and whether or not we deal with them or sweep them back under the rug.
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