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Lawsuits piling up against Savannah fuel city manager resignation

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Will she resign or will she accept termination? It's a decision for Savannah City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney after a whirlwind 24 hours of being asked for her resignation by her biggest supporter, Mayor Edna Jackson, Tuesday.

WTOC obtained a copy of the letter Mayor Jackson sent to Small-Toney two weeks ago as a follow-up to the public reprimand issued the city manager on August 31.

In the letter, the mayor is very thorough and to the point with dissatisfaction council has in the city manager's job performance and treatment of employees. She says:

"While it is probably within your legal authority to act harshly towards employees, I am of the strong opinion that unvarnished threats of firing good city workers simply are counter-productive, not to mention unprofessional."

However, is there more to the statement than meets the eye? 

"Issues have been raised. Things that have not been made public yet which make me concerned with her ability to lead," Van Johnson told WTOC Wednesday night.

Issues not made public yet? WTOC followed up with Van Johnson Thursday afternoon. He says several lawsuits have been, or will be, filed against the city. With "lawsuits piling up," among  other issues, the city manager has one week to decide what she will do.

"She has the opportunity to make this go away. It is totally her choice," Johnson told WTOC.

According to city charter, and her agreement with the city, Johnson says if Small-Toney chooses to resign, which she can do before next Thursday's special 10 a.m. city council meeting, she will get six months severance pay. However, if she forces council to terminate her she can request a public hearing and will likely only get two months severance pay.

The likelihood of the city manager keeping her job, looking smaller and smaller after Wednesday's executive session.

Thursday morning, new threats emerged from a group calling themselves Concerned Citizens for Savannah. They want to recall members of Savannah City Council because, just as the Mayor said in her letter of council losing confidence in Small-Toney, this group says they have lost confidence in the Mayor and council.

They are asking the public to petition the mayor's office and ask for the recall Mayor Jackson, Johnson and Carol Bell. Van Johnson says they are being singled out as council members, who are black, who are not supporting the black city manager, which was a history making benchmark for Savannah just a year ago.

"It seems like racism all in of itself, I mean, if we are the majority of city council and we are just picked out," Johnson told WTOC. "If being guilty is leading this city in the most responsible way I know how, demanding that we have competence, demanding we execute, we pursue professional excellence and make sure our bills are paid and make sure our employees are treated right make sure our citizens have confidence in us then I am guilty as charged."

Johnson says the issue is not, and should not be, about race. He says it's about job performance and protecting the city's best interests and the money of taxpayers.

"When people are unhappy, they file lawsuits. When people are separated from organizations unfairly, they file lawsuits. In the purchasing department we had 100 percent turnover. 100 percent turnover. That is why bills aren't paid. Those are issues that keep coming to us," Johnson said.

Council will have a special meeting and public hearing next Thursday, but it won't happen if the city manager chooses to resign before then. So far, Small-Toney she has had no comment and as of this story being posted.

Copyright 2012 WTOC. All rights reserved.

Savannah City Manager

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