Thursday, June 28, 2018

Roy Minter selected as new Savannah Police Chief

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 3:23 PM

Chief Roy Minter
  • Chief Roy Minter
Roy Minter, who announced his retirement earlier this year as Police Chief of Peoria, Arizona, has been announced as new Savannah Police Department Chief.

City Manager Rob Hernandez says Minter is a "21st Century police executive" who "embraces diversity across all dimensions."

Minter, age 57, who has experience in Denton TX (Dallas/Fort Worth metro), Aurora CO (Denver metro), and Houston, is set to begin August 22.

Minter has been the chief in Peoria since 2011. From 2008-2011 Minter was the Police Chief in Denton, Texas. Prior to becoming a police chief, he spent 15-years with the Aurora, Colorado Police Department and 10 years with Houston Police Department.

He holds a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and a master's degree in Organizational Management.

Hernandez thanked interim Chief Mark Revenew for his service in the post since January of this year, and hoped Revenew would consider serving the local law enforcement community.

"He is an ultimate professional and he accepted the challenge to lead on interim basis without hesitation. He has done an exceptional job. We hope he will stay on during the transition to Chief Minter’s leadership," Hernandez said of Revenew.

Hernandez also addressed the City's overall approach to crime and public safety.

"The Mayor and City Council’s commitment to public safety is paying off. So far, there has been an 18% drop in overall Part I crimes including a 16% drop in violent crime. Compared to last year, we’ve had six fewer homicides than this time last year and 16 fewer from just two years ago. Robberies and shootings are also down significantly from last year. When it comes to public safety, we are moving in the right direction: Forward," Hernandez said.

Savannah Music Festival Director Rob Gibson resigns

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 11:03 AM

Savannah Music Festival (SMF) has accepted the resignation of Rob Gibson, its Executive & Artistic Director of sixteen years.

"Mr. Gibson led the organization’s transition and ascendance from a small, primarily local event to one of international prominence, drawing visitors, artists and favorable reviews from around the world to its multi-genre presentations. He leaves to pursue other interests, and SMF wishes him well in those endeavors," says an SMF spokesperson.

SMF says it will "quickly but thoughtfully engage in a national and formal search for new leadership. In the interim, the organization’s operations will be in good hands under the direction of its highly experienced and dedicated board and staff."

Under Mr. Gibson’s leadership and vision, "SMF developed three landmark music education programs for which it expends nearly half a million dollars annually. The largest of these is Musical Explorers, a program developed in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, which provides year-round music education to approximately 11,000 Savannah-area K-2 students. Other education programs formed under Rob Gibson’s leadership include Swing Central Jazz, a workshop and competition for the country’s leading high school jazz orchestras, and the Acoustic Music Seminar, a nationally recognized mentorship program for young string players. Mr. Gibson also fostered numerous artistic partnerships and commissioned works, and hosted ten seasons of the public radio show Savannah Music Festival LIVE," the organization reports.

The 30th annual festival season runs from March 28 through April 13, 2019, and includes more than 100 performances in intimate venues throughout Savannah’s historic district. For more information visit www.savannahmusicfestival.org.

Southside death could be accidental shooting, police say

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 10:55 AM

Savannah Police’s Violent Crimes Unit is investigating a shooting that fatally wounded a 45-year-old woman at a home on Plantation Drive in Windsor Forest.

"Officers responded to the home in the 600 block of Plantation Drive just prior to 11 p.m. and discovered Marissa Clay deceased from a gunshot wound. Detectives are investigating this as a possible accidental shooting. Charges have not been made at this time, but residents who were in the home are being questioned by police. Detectives believe this is an isolated, domestic incident." police report.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the Violent Crimes Unit tip line at (912) 525-3124. Information may also be forwarded to CrimeStoppers at (912) 234-2020. Tipsters remain anonymous and may qualify for a cash reward.

Savannah Police prepare to enforce new hands-driving law

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 10:53 AM

On July 1 Georgia’s New Hands-Free Law goes into effect, and Savannah Police officers are telling the public they "are prepared to begin enforcement immediately."

Texting while driving has been illegal in Georgia since July 2010, but the new law will expand the illegal phone usage to any phone activity that involves holding or touching a phone.

"This includes holding the phone up to your ear to talk, reading messages, emailing, watching or recording videos, social media, or programing or holding GPS devices," police say.

Police are urging drivers to "explore available hands-free technology, like voice to text or Bluetooth. If a device needs to be used for GPS, drivers are asked to start the navigation prior to putting the vehicle in gear and to purchase something that will hold the device while navigation is running."

“This law has been put into effect for the safety of all citizens,” said Lt. Torrance Garvin, of Savannah Police’s Traffic Unit. “Distracted driving is a major source of crashes. If we can eliminate those distractions then we can lower our number of crashes and fatalities.”

Savannah Police officers are planning to give verbal and written warnings during the first 30 days for the first offense. Citations may still be issued for an initial offense if officers believe it is warranted.

“We understand that in the first 30 days there will be a lot of education that will need to be done,” Garvin said. “Even though the state has been announcing the change for some time, there are still people who are unaware of the specifics of the law and how it will affect them. Everyone who receives a warning will also receive information on the Hands Free Law.”

Officers are exploring enforcement plans that may include plainclothes officers looking for unlawful phone usage.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

City's biggest flag set to be raised July 3 at new Veterans Memorial Park

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 11:04 AM

The City of Savannah will raise what it calls "the biggest flag in the City" at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 3.

This American flag will be displayed atop a new 100 ft. flag pole which is being installed this week at the new Veterans Memorial Park, located on Abercorn Street/Highway 204 at the end of the Truman Parkway.

"The 30 ft. x 50 ft. flag will be raised with the help of the 3rd Infantry Division Color Guard. The 3rd ID Band will perform patriotic musical selections. Active duty military members, veterans and the public are encouraged to attend," a City spokesperson says.

City of Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas "has spearheaded this SPLOST-funded project. As the City continues to develop the park, plans include enhanced landscaping, a honor garden, parking area, and benches," the City says. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Savannah City Council votes to raise property taxes, is set for full repeal of Fire Fee

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 4:39 PM

A normally bitterly divided Savannah City Council today managed to agree on something.

They voted unanimously to adopt a property tax increase in preparation for eventual repeal of the controversial Fire Fee.

The tax rate in the City will go from 12.48 to 13.4 mills.

Council admitted that holding the tax increase to less than a full mill was due to "optics."

Alderman Julian Miller, previously a supporter of the Fee, said "I hoped we could do this without a tax increase, but I don't like the City we would have to live in if we don't do something."

Alderman Van Johnson, longtime opponent of the Fee, said, "No one likes raising taxes... but our millage rate as it is is not sustainable."

The Fire Fee, and new language in the City charter enabling it, is set for repeal at a future meeting.

In discussion prior to the vote, Alderman Brian Foster said that during the process of gaining more information about the Fire Fee, Council discovered that a third of properties in Savannah either pay zero or near zero in property taxes.

Foster said there are 5800 tax-exempt properties, with 19,000 properties in total not paying taxes.

Several Council members defended City Manager Rob Hernandez from public scorn regarding the Fire Fee idea.

Alderman Bill Durrence said, "The attacks on the City Manager are way out of line."

Regarding the news that Hernandez is a finalist for the City Manager job in Brownsville, Texas, Alderwoman Estella Shabazz directly asked the City Manager if he's going to stay in Savannah.

City Attorney Brooks Stillwell immediately said, "I don't think that's appropriate to ask."

In other Council news:

The $8.8 million award of a design contract for the new Westside Arena was briefly sidetracked so that the preferred bidder could take steps to "self-identify" more completely as a  Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE).

The City Manager had to explain to Council that the City "no longer tracks" minority-owned businesses; the nomenclature is now the "race and gender neutral" Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) description.

Alderman Van Johnson opened discussion of awarding Arena design contract by saying, "Welcome to another part of the most significant public undertaking that this City will ever undertake." 

An anticipated revision to the Alcoholic Beverage Ordinance was approved which will eliminate the bar card and mandatory background check for servers.

However, the new Ordinance will not include a proposed Administrative Hearing Officer to handle liquor licenses.

Alderman Van Johnson says he wants to retain the right to "weigh in personally" on each liquor license.

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Road rage arrest in Pooler

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 9:28 AM

One man has been arrested from a road rage incident that took place on June 15 in West Chatham.

Friday, June 15, Pooler officers received a call from dispatch regarding a car speeding down Interstate 16 chasing another while involved in road rage activity.
"The vehicle in the rear fired a weapon at the vehicle in front missing the driver but hitting the tail light," reports the Pooler Police Dept.

"After obtaining the tag number from a witness, detectives were able to track down the offender and make the arrest" on June 20, police say.

The alleged offender, Michael Broome, is being detained and awaiting arraignment at Chatham County jail on one charge of aggravated assault.

CID Commander John Schmitt states “We take road rage very seriously. Our detectives did an outstanding job following through and making this arrest. Pooler is safer place for it."

CAT's free DOT Shuttle expands night and weekend hours

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 9:24 AM

City of Savannah and Chatham Area Transit (CAT) announced this week that there will be extended hours for the free DOT shuttle, effective July 9.

The City says the goal of the extended night and weekend hours is to help residents, employees and visitors access the downtown area.

Effective July 9, DOT’s hours of operations will go from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the weekday to 7 a.m. to midnight. DOT will provide shuttle service on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to midnight, Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and holiday hours including MLK, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

DOT will provide shuttle service on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to midnight, Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and holiday hours including MLK, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

City of Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach said, “Downtown Savannah has so much to offer, great restaurants, lots of shopping options, our historic district monuments and museums, entertainment opportunities. It’s also where many of us come to work each day. We are excited that our partnership with CAT is going to help people get downtown and move around the City without putting a dent in their pocketbooks.”

CAT Board Chairman Howard French said, “Thanks to our partnership with the City of Savannah, we will extend the service hours for the DOT shuttle, which is a win-win for riders, who work downtown late into the evenings and for the city and business community. We see both residents and tourists using the shuttles and I want to thank the Mayor, his staff, and our elected officials for this great public transit partnership.”

To date, CAT reports that it is averaging about 23,000 rides per month on the FPY service and ridership is on pace to hit a quarter million trips since the inception of the new shuttle service in September 2017.

City of Savannah Parking and Mobility Director Sean Brandon said, “The best places to park in downtown Savannah are in our parking garages. Now that CAT has expanded the DOT shuttle hours, our downtown workers and visitors are going to have an easier time getting to and from all of our garages, saving them time and money.”

Information about the shuttle routes can be found at www.savannahga.gov/parking or www.catchacat.org.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Two homicides within 24 hours

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 12:39 PM

The ninth and tenth homicides of 2018 in Savannah city limits happened within hours of each other.

22-year-old Joshua Thomas was fatally shot on Thursday in the ninth homicide. In a separate incident early Friday, 32-year-old Shawntray Grant was murdered on Randolph Street, for the tenth.

In the death of Thomas, "Officers responded to Tuten Avenue between W. Bay and Hudson streets at around 2:20 p.m. on reports of a shooting. Once on scene, officers located an adult black male suffering from gunshot wounds. He was transported to the hospital in serious condition. He succumbed to those injuries shortly after," police report.

Violent Crimes detectives say they "do not believe this is random."

In Grant's death, "At around 2 a.m., officers responded to the 200 block of Randolph Street on reports of a shooting. Once on scene, officers discovered Shawntray Grant, 32, deceased in a parking lot," police report.

Anyone with information on these cases is asked to call the Violent Crimes Unit tip line at (912) 525-3124. Information may also be forwarded to CrimeStoppers at (912) 234-2020. Tipsters remain anonymous and may qualify for a cash reward.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hernandez, citing "personal" attacks, admits he is finalist for City Manager job in Texas

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 4:07 PM

Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez, in the middle of a hot political fight over his controversial Fire Fee idea, announced today that he is a finalist for the job of City Manager in Brownsville, Texas.

“The past 20 months have been some of the most rewarding and challenging of my career. During this time I have developed a deep appreciation for Savannah, one of America’s great cities. I have also come to realize how much the citizens care about their community, and how passionate they are concerning its future," he writes in a statement.

"My goal has been to develop a City organization that matches the excellence of this community, and help Savannah fully realize its true potential. We have made much progress in a short amount of time, but in hindsight we perhaps moved too quickly on too many fronts. I have also at times been too blunt when diplomacy would have been better. For this, I apologize," Hernandez writes.

"Criticism of government is healthy and important, and comes with the territory. I don’t take it personally, even if some of the attacks on me have been very personal. What I do want is to work in a community that wants to work with me. I am not sure that is currently the case. Amid a sustained level of criticism and uncertainty, I have considered opportunities outside Savannah. While I have no desire to leave, I did feel it was a prudent move for me and my family," he writes.

"I am excited about Savannah’s bright future. I do hope we can work together to get there.”

Hernandez has only held the Savannah office since September 2016, hired by City Council in the wake of Mayor Eddie DeLoach's victory in the November 2015 city elections.

A story from April in the Brownsville Herald lists him as one of 30 applicants.

His signature policy proposal, a new Fire Fee, was intended to help stabilize the City's budget problems but caused intense public furor.

Hernandez was visibly frustrated with Council at last week's regular meeting, in which he was tasked with re-doing the Fire Fee with days to go before the mandatory budget and tax rate adoption. 

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