Savannah City Council selects first permanent City Manager since 2019

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 10:03 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2021 at 3:49 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Savanah City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to name Joseph “Jay” Melder as Savannah’s first permanent City Manager since 2019.

Melder is the Assistant City Administrator of Washington DC. He has served in the position since March of 2019.

“I am extremely honored that the Mayor and City Council have expressed their confidence in me to be the next City Manager of this great city,” Mr. Melder said. “They have an ambitious vision for Savannah, and I committed to working hand in hand with them to deliver that vision on behalf of all Savannahians. I am eager to join the ranks of Savannah city employees who are already working tirelessly to achieve these goals. I can’t wait to become a Savannahian myself, and to meet more of our residents, get to know our neighborhoods and engage and partner with the many committed stakeholders who all want Savannah to be a great place to live, learn, work, prosper and play.”

An employment contract will be taken up for consideration by City Council during their first meeting in August. Melder is expected to assume the role of City Manager on Friday, Sept. 10.

“This is an exciting moment for our City as we name a true visionary to help guide us to new heights of success,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson. “Jay Melder has the knowledge and skills we need to take the big, bold actions to make Savannah an even better place. I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Michael Brown for selflessly coming out of retirement to provide a steady hand for our City when we needed him the most. He is the consummate public servant, and he will always be a part of Team Savannah.”

During Thursday night’s Savannah City Council meeting, it was announced interim City Manager Michael Brown will be resigning from the position. His resignation will be effective Friday, July 30.

Brown has served in the interim role for the past nine months, after having previously served in the role for 15 years from 1995 to 2010.

After leading the vote to approve Melder’s appointment, Mayor Van Johnson took a moment to acknowledge and thank Michael Brown for his what will nearly be ten months of service as interim city manager.

“Michael Brown, you are the consummate public service professional. I have enjoyed working with you from the time that I first came on Council, and certainly now as Mayor. We did not always agree, but we certainly can agree on our love of Savannah. I have learned a lot from you, and I think you have given more than enough of your service. I just want you to know, in spite of whatever’s been said, I know you have endured a lot, I appreciate you,” said Mayor Johnson.

Watch the full City Council meeting below:

City Council also appointed Heath Lloyd to serve as interim City Manager from Friday, July 30, until Friday, Sept. 10. Lloyd currently serves as Assistant City Manager and Chief Infrastructure and Development Officer.

Lloyd was also a finalist for the city manager role.

Some of Melder’s key plans

Jay Melder will be bringing his experience and expertise in homeless services, health and human services and major city administration to the table in less than two months.

We had a chance to hear from Melder in person just last month during a panel Q&A here at the Cultural Arts Center about his priorities if selected as Savannah’s next city manager.

And Joseph “Jay” Melder said his priorities will be those of Council during a question and answer panel with the local media last month.

“As I understand it, they’re pretty unified on what those priorities are. And that’s reducing violent crime, reducing poverty and producing and preserving affordable housing. So I think you’ve got to be keying in on those and start showing some progress pretty soon, at least in how you’re thinking about it and how you’re going to tackle the issue,” said Melder.

Melder was also asked how he plans to build up relationships with under-served communities, especially those that may have lost trust in police and the local government.

While he acknowledged there’s not a one-size fits all approach, Melder says the role of city manager is to support the police department in a way that frees them up to respond to community trust issues in a positive way.

“If you produce more non-policing assets and partners, and you allow the department to be able to interact with the community in the ways that it wants to in a meaningful, authentic way, and you’ll start to see trust rebuild.”

In an email Friday, Melder said he’s excited about getting to work in Savannah. His last day in Washington D.C. as Assistant City Administrator hasn’t been set just yet, but again, his start date is September 10.

Tourism Leadership Council on Melder appointment

The president and CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council here in Savannah said the 9-0 vote was encouraging, especially on a decision as big as naming the head of the city’s administration.

“I think a nine and oh vote speaks volumes about the qualifications of this individual, and what our leadership believe he’s going to be able to accomplish in our community,” said Michael Owens, President/CEO, Tourism Leadership Council.

Owens says it’s crucial for the city and private business to have a working relationship, adding some of the most successful programs that Savannah has seen in times of need are thanks to public/private partnerships.

“It’s working together that we’ve accomplished the best things in our community, and we’ll certainly have to have a city manager who understands the importance of bringing all folks into helping government, and for government helping them. It is a symbiosis.”

Owens also says having a fresh perspective from a new city manager coming from out of town is a balancing act between new experience and old experience to tackle issues that Savannah has grappled with for years, like poverty, homelessness and crime.

“We have lots of old problems. We’re going to need a balanced solution to create new solutions to old problems.”

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