City manager search gets weird 

Small-Toney has no bond, a candidate drops out, others have tarnished resumes

Late in his second and final term, Mayor Otis Johnson appears to have united the community.

Unfortunately, it seems to be uniting in a sense of disgust at how the search for a permanent city manager is going.

At first glance everything seemed ready for this week’s public forum introducing the candidates (the city changed the day of the forum after we went to press last week, so it was actually on Tuesday instead of Wednesday).

But by last Friday the news had broken that Acting City Manager Rochelle Small–Toney – also one of the finalists for the permanent job – had never secured the $50,000 bond required of all city managers in Savannah, whether acting or permanent.

A few hours later, the names of the other finalists were released – with one having dropped out because they didn’t want their name released that early.

Of three non–local candidates, one was fired for financial mismanagement, one has already resigned in the wake of a discrimination complaint and another resigned under allegations of improperly awarding contracts.

All that was bad enough, but Mayor Johnson didn’t help when, upon being questioned about Small-Toney’s lack of a bond, he blamed a TV reporter for making things “personal.”

Things got even worse from there.

In other interviews, Mayor Johnson made it clear that his priority was not addressing the city manager’s lack of a bond, but in finding and punishing the leaker of the information instead.

(Punishing whistleblowers who are acting in the public interest is legally questionable, to say the least, something Alderman Van Johnson apparently didn't take into account when he recently called for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to find his/her identity.)

Reports surfaced that the mayor allegedly threatened ethics charges against any council member who might be responsible for divulging that and similar information to constituents.

Then news came out that at least one alderman, Tony Thomas, basically thought the whole candidate search was bogus from the get-go.

Facebook and internet comment sections blew up, not only in disgust at the ramshackle way the process was going, but at the mayor’s reaction.

Several questions loomed over all:

• What past actions made Rochelle Small–Toney not underwriteable for a bond by an insurance company?

• Why was she allowed to be in violation of the city charter for eight months as acting city manager?

• Did anyone know about her lack of a bond or was it an oversight?

• Who leaked the info about the lack of a bond to the media?

• Why did taxpayers pay $30,000 for a candidate search to turn up such flawed candidates when a simple Google search would tell you Cauthen was fired and Lott had already resigned?

• Say, what’s Chris Morrill up to these days?

And last but not least: Was the whole candidate search less than a good–faith effort and Small–Toney was always going to get the job regardless?

While public opinion seems to be gelling around the latter scenario, nonetheless here are brief looks at the other three candidates:

Wayne Cauthen – The former city manager of Kansas City, Mo., was forced out under accusations by the city council that he didn’t properly manage the city budget. In addition, there were allegations of misuse of taxpayer funds.

Alfred Lott – As city manager of Albany, Ga. – a job he has resigned from – Lott was under various clouds of ethical suspicion, including  hiring a once-jailed felon as director of downtown.

Pat DiGiovanni – The only white finalist, DiGiovanni has been deputy city manager of San Antonio for five years. He resigned from the city manager job in Kalamazoo, Mich., amid allegations of improper awarding of contracts.

While we’re all asking questions, here’s another one:

If, as we’re constantly told, Savannah is charming and vibrant and one of the world’s most beautiful cities and most popular travel destinations, why throughout the entire United States aren’t there more qualified candidates with blemish–free records willing to come work here?

To comment, email us at letters@connectsavannah.com



About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more


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