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Savannah City Manager resigns; interim named

Mayor Edna Jackson speaks after the City Council session about the city manager's resignation. Mayor Edna Jackson speaks after the City Council session about the city manager's resignation.
Alderman Van Johnson said that if an audit proves any wrong doing, which he does not believe has happened, Small-Toney would still be held responsible. Alderman Van Johnson said that if an audit proves any wrong doing, which he does not believe has happened, Small-Toney would still be held responsible.
Assistant City Manager Stephanie Cutter will be serving as the interim City Manager. (Source: City of Savannah) Assistant City Manager Stephanie Cutter will be serving as the interim City Manager. (Source: City of Savannah)
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Rochelle Small-Toney has officially left the gold dome. The city of Savannah quickly filled the void she leaves after Mayor Edna Jackson requested Small-Toney's resignation a week ago. 

The City Council, city employees, the public and the mayor waited - and waited - wondering if and when the city manager would respond to the resignation request. 

After a verbal notice to the mayor that she would resign Wednesday, the mayor's office received the official resignation letter at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

A few hours later, after a one-hour executive session, with a room full of the public and media waiting, they made it official. Jackson made the announcement and read the letter. Then the City Council voted on whether to accept the resignation of the city's first female and first black city manager.

"Madame Mayor, I move to accept the resignation of Rochelle D. Small-Toney," Alderman Van Johnson said.

"Second," said Alderwoman Mary Ellen Sprague. Last March, the two council members were on opposing sides in the debate over the new city manager. Thursday, they shared the same view as four others, who voted to accept the resignation, although a forced one.

Only council members Mary Osborne, John Hall and Estella Shabbaz - all vocal supporters of Small-Toney - voted no.

After the executive session, it seemed City Council had a clear plan on moving forward quickly, naming Assistant City Manager Stephanie Cutter the acting city manager. City Attorney Brooks Stillwell's recommended a city audit.

Jackson told WTOC afterward that she didn't want to have to fire the city manager. She added it's something which hadn't been done in more than 40 years.

"You are never happy when someone has to leave your organization. I am happy Ms. Small-Toney made the decision to resign," she said.

Instead of a vote of termination, the City Council voted to accept the resignation.

Small-Toney began the job in March 2011. It started as a historic moment for the city and she got off to a promising start.

However, council members say issue after issue piled up and so did lawsuits and Equal Opportunity Commission complaints.

Staff morale dropped and the overall operation of the city was at risk, council members told WTOC.

The mayor said the situation had the potential to cause a major rift within the community, as a small group of the city manager's most vocal supporters, requested time to speak and held rallies and strategy sessions.

Now, it is over. Jackson said it is time to move on.

"This is an issue which could have really divided the community. I don't feel that it did. I feel what has happened has been for the good of the community. We wish her well and she will be successful wherever she goes," Jackson said.

Johnson thanked the mayor for her leadership in throughout the City Manager situation, which drew a loud round of applause from the audience.

The mayor said the only conversation she had with Small-Toney since asking her to resign was on Wednesday when Small-Toney called to tell her she was intending to resign. All other contact was through her lawyer.

Small-Toney's resignation is effective immediately. 

As for the recommended audit, Stillwell called it "normal and customary" when a CEO, or in this case city manager, leaves.

Johnson said that if an audit proves any wrong doing, which he does not believe has happened, Small-Toney would still be held responsible. Council members and citizens had been suggesting an audit after so much financial chaos at City Hall.

"I don't think there has been a misappropriation of funds or anything like that. I think it is reasonable before we move forward and start a search for a new city manager. We need to know what our position is. I think that's fair," Johnson said.

Johnson was among those council members who thought an audit was a good idea.

Small Toney's terms of resignation will entitle her to six months severance pay, which amounts to about $95,000; she will receive benefits as a city employee, including, according to her letter, "accrued vacation pay through the date of her termination." Or, in this case, resignation.

Johnson said it's best to make sure the city is in good shape and clean financially before the end of the year.

"When you have a leadership change in any organization it is customary to have an audit to know where you are. It gives us a real understanding of where we are going into budget season," Johnson said.

The audit is one issue. Who will run the city is another. The mayor told WTOC that a search for a new city manager will not begin immediately.

"Not yet. We have some healing to do and some priorities we need to move on," she said.

In the interim, Cutter said she is ready to take charge.

"I have inherited a wonderful management team. I think the staff is ready to move forward and we will do that," Cutter told WTOC.

Cutter, while honored to be asked and emotional when congratulated at the meeting by teachers from her past, was quick to tell me she does not want the permanent city manager job.

"Are you interested in the real job?"

"No, I am not. This is a temporary position," Cutter said.

Cutter was a unanimous choice by City Council. She has been with the city of Savannah 23 years. She grew up in Savannah and graduated from Windsor Forest High School. She has served as assistant city manager of Administrative and Community Services since last December.

Cutter said she is ready to fill the void left by the forced resignation of Small-Toney, who elevated her to assistant city manager.

Jackson thinks so too.

"We have never received any kind of complaint against her and we know if she is the building force we need and she will be the person who can hold us," Jackson said.

"This is good. I think this is good for staff to see our council can look internally and choose someone who can work with everyone and carry out the business of the city," Cutter told WTOC.

Jackson said the search for a new city manager will have to wait. No timetable has been set.

Copyright 2012 WTOC. All rights reserved.

Savannah City Manager

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