Savannah city manager finalists discuss public scrutiny, working with council during weekend panel

Savannah city manager finalists discuss public scrutiny, working with council during weekend panel

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - With a new city and new title, often comes new scrutiny from the public.

Each finalist for Savannah City Manager was asked during a Saturday panel discussion at the Cultural Arts Center how they’d handle the pressure, beginning with Odie Donald II, currently the City Manager of South Fulton, Georgia.

“Everywhere I’ve been that’s how it starts off. But I’m prepared for it. I think you’re always, especially as a new guy here in the community that you’re not from, you’re always going to probably be under greater scrutiny," said Donald.

John Pombier, current Assistant City Manager in Mesa, Arizona says years as a prosecutor and in government have prepared him for the scrutiny, whether from the public, or from council.

Pombier responded, “I have an amazingly thick skin. Because I don’t believe it’s personal. Most of the community, most of Council when they’re complaining about something, they’re complaining about how we’re handling our business. They’re complaining about how we’re doing our jobs. That’s not personal.”

Caluha Barnes, Deputy City Manager in Modesto, California says her role within the city calls for her to sometimes be the lead on public communication for certain projects.

“In general, if there’s a really complicated issue that we’ve dealt with in the City of Modesto that I have been the lead on, but you won’t find my name associated with it because that’s not really important to me. I care about the outcomes. So I have that experience with the press, it’s not always good, but I’ve had some press," said Barnes.

As for managing conflicting priorities of Council members, the finalists had this to say.

“The opportunity I think for City Manager really is to understand what all the interests are of the Council members, and then to be able to fold that into a kind of solution that works," Barnes said.

Pombier replied, “I think you manage it by understanding that you take the will of Council and you move forward with their direction. But you don’t lose sight of what the others were talking about. You make sure they understand their voice was heard to the extent you can, you meet their needs, desires and goals and combine them with the direction you have and you make them both work.”

Donald said, “I would start with ensuring and stating as a constant reminder that how we do business between each other, impacts how we do business period. So I’d start there.”

Each panel took a survey following the question and answer session to rate each candidate on their performance.

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