Small-Toney Set to Make History as City Manager

Rochelle Small-Toney
Rochelle Small-Toney

A fter a comprehensive national search and months of media coverage, public meetings and interviews, the search for a new Savannah City Manager appears to have ended. During the February 24 meeting, the Savannah City Council voted 5-4 to nominate Rochelle Small-Toney to fill the post. Small-Toney, who is expected to accept the nomination, will become the first African American and the first female to be named City Manager in Savannah. Small-Toney emerged as the best qualified of more than 80 candidates for the position, and received the unanimous support of all of the African-American members of council.

During the selection process, it was learned that the Savannah City Charter stipulates that the City Manager be covered by a $50,000 Public Officials Surety Bond, and that the City’s risk management staff failed to apply for this coverage for Small-Toney who served as Acting City Manager since May 2010. Almost 8 months later, when it was apparent that Small-Toney was a leading candidate for the city manager position, the City applied for the required $50,000 surety bond, and was notified that the coverage had been denied by the City’s insurance carrier.

This information was released to the press by an unknown source, and no reason for the denial was provided. However, a few days after this information was released to the public, Small-Toney was approved for the $50,000 bond.

Additionally, it was learned that former City Manager Michael Brown, who held this post for 16 years, increased his personal bond coverage to $1 million at some point during his tenure without an action by the Council. The reason for Brown’s decision to increase his coverage was not determined. The City Charter clearly requires only a $50,000 bond. After learning that Brown was covered by a $1 million bond, the Council initiated a plan to adopt an ordinance requiring a $1 million bond for the City Manager. However, it was subsequently learned from the City’s insurance broker, the Georgia Municipal Association and the National League of Cities that if the proposed new ordinance were approved, Savannah would possibly be the only city in the nation to require a $1 million personal bond for its manager. It was also learned that such a high personal insurance coverage was probably not needed since the Savannah City Manager is covered by the other fidelity insurance purchased by the City.

Many of Small- Toney’s supporters considered the conversation about the bond a red herring being used by her detractors to deny her the post when the facts that she is an African American and a female were the real reasons for the controversy.

All of the questions surrounding the bond became non-issues when, during the February 24th Council Meeting, Mayor Otis Johnson read a letter from the City’s insurance broker stating that Small- Toney had been approved for a $1 million bond. The Council voted to table consideration of the ordinance changing the bonding requirement.

In addition to serving as Acting City Manager since May 2010, Small- Toney served as Savannah Assistant City Manager and head of the Bureau of Public Development from 2007- 2010. Before moving to Savannah, she worked as an assistant city manager for Charlottesville, Va., from 1999-2007. Small-Toney worked in Danville, Va., where she was an assistant city manager from 1993 to 1999 and assistant to the city manager from 1991 to 1993. She also worked in Wilmington, N.C. for 10 years as a budget analyst and a personnel analyst. She has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Savannah City Council meets next on March 10. It is anticipated that at that time Small- Toney will be confirmed as the new City Manager. This would be a historic appointment for Savannah and the nation.

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