'Issues not public yet' spark city manager resignation request - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

'Issues not public yet' led to mayor asking for Small-Toney resignation

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Savannah City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney Savannah City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

A shake-up in the works at city hall? For the first time in recent memory, a Savannah City Manager is on the verge of being fired.

A special workshop Tuesday, expected to focus on the city's embattled purchasing department, was turned into an executive session on the future of city manager Rochelle Small-Toney, and personnel not named.

Last month, council gave Toney 90 days to turn things around after a series of scandals and embarrassing snafu's made the city look bad. Something changed in the last 6 weeks, and now one of Rochelle Small-Toney's most powerful supporters has asked for her resignation.

"I spoke to the city manager and asked for her resignation on yesterday," Mayor Edna Jackson told City Council late Wednesday night, following a closed door meeting on personnel.

What a difference a year makes. March of 2011, Edna Jackson and Van Johnson's votes helped make Savannah history. Rochelle Small-Toney, then the acting city manager, became the city's first female and first black city manager, hired after a scathing and brutal search process which saw racial tensions flare and council divided.

Since then, there have been good times, and bad times.

The city's budget produced a surplus, several small programs have been born and what some call a more streamlined, at least physically, city hall took shape.

Of course, there were also public showdown's with the police chief, questionable hires, what council members call a drop in employee morale, criticism of Small-Toney's management style and leadership.

Then, city leaders say the trust started to evaporate. Small-Toney was accused of violating the city's travel policy, took intense heat for the hiring, and a few months later, firing of newly hired Emergency Management Director Ben Johnson.

Earlier this month, the city was called out on paying vendors late, possibly blacklisting a local business on an RFP bid for a project, and other issues involving the under-staffed city purchasing department.

Small-Toney came under fire and was reprimanded and given 90 days to turn things around.

Less than six weeks later, a new issue has surfaced, which council is not revealing, which cut that 90 days off and forced the mayor to ask the city manager to quit.

"It is very difficult because I have always been a supporter. My whole election was on the line because of the stand that I took (in the city manager search and hiring of Small-Toney). But, I stand by my decision at this time," Jackson told WTOC.

"Issues are being found out. Many things that are not public yet that concern me about her ability to lead," Van Johnson, mayor pro-tem, told WTOC.

What those issues are remain a mystery.

After a two and half hour executive session, Alderwoman Estella Shabbaz, who was vocal about allowing the public to speak either before or after council discussed the city manager, says her support for Small-Toney has not waivered.

"It was somewhat of a shock to me because I just could not understand why things were moving so quickly. It was quite baffling to me," Shabbaz said.

Supporters who were there when Small-Toney was hired and celebrated for her were there at what could be the end.

"How would you do your job if your boss was always kicking you," Savannah Civil Rights leader Frances Johnson told WTOC, speaking about city council's handling of the city manager.

Those same supporters, who agreed with Jackson when she voted for Small-Toney last year, were now questioning the mayor for this sudden and swift action.

"For this to be taking place with less than 24 hour notice, we think it's out of order. It may be legal, but it's wrong," Rev. Dr. Leonard Small told WTOC.

"We have asked that we be notified if it is on the agenda again, whenever this matter comes up again," Clifton Jones said. Jones was on the City Council and voted for Small-Toney last year.

Next Thursday, the public has one hour to plead Small-Toney's case to her bosses. In the meantime, termination seems imminent.

"She just continues to do her job," Jackson told WTOC. "She is the city manager so she is responsible for continuing her job."

With the dark cloud looming, some may say it's an awkward predicament for anybody, whether you agree with termination or not. City employees must keep the city running, while the city manager does her job.

Can she change a few minds to keep her job, or will Small-Toney call it quits. The next eight days may be telling before we even get to next Thursday.

"We have not received a response from her. She was asked in here today if she had anything to say," Jackson said. "And she said no. So that is where we are."

No action was taken after council deliberated for more than two and half hours Wednesday evening. Instead, they will have a special meeting on the city manager's tenure at 10 a.m. Oct. 4.

The public is invited to the one hour public hearing and then city council will vote on whether the city manager will be fired or not.

Whether a vote will actually take place, still in question, with a lot of things able to take place between now and next Thursday.

Copyright 2012 WTOC. All rights reserved.

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