Facebook Post Starts Issue about new Savannah Mayor and City Manager’s Future

It began Tuesday evening with a Facebook post from Savannah City Alderman Tony Thomas in which he said that Eddie Deloach (who was hours away from being sworn in as the new mayor) had called him sometime that day to talk about a so called “deal” to get rid of City Manager Stephanie Cutter.  “Frankly, I think it’s little shady and I think we’re entering a new term, people want to turn a new leaf and we should be setting a high road example,” Thomas told reporters at the Civic Center as swearing in ceremonies for the new mayor and all alderman were about to begin.

Thomas’s assertions suggesting a possible rift between the alderman who’ve been around for awhile versus the new mayor and three new alderman.

Mayor Deloach told us by phone he can’t discuss anything related to a personnel matter and was not going to discuss a Facebook post from Tony Thomas saying “Tony does what he does.”

Thomas told reporters Tuesday night that that the new members have not even had an official meeting and “have never talked to the city manager officially.”

Cutter served as acting City Manager in 2012 and received the official title a year later.  Alderman John Hall told he still supports Carter.  Hall also acknowledged receiving a phone call from Deloach as Thomas had with reportedly the same message, i.e. there was a plan to remove Cutter and enough votes to do so.

Alderman Van Johnson told News 3 he had “also spoken to Deloach” but then said that a number of matters would be considered as the new council formulates plans for Savannah’s future.

We also contacted the three new alderman, Brian Foster, Bill Durrence and Julian Miller.  Foster told us simply that he couldn’t discuss anything related to a personnel issue.

Durrence who made it no secret during the campaign that he questions whether Cutter can lead the city into the future many citizens want, told me he had spoken with Deloach about a number of matters.  Miller said much the same thing and that he was “hesitant to get into anything personnel related.  Miller also told me he believes Deloach has been working hard to gather information and input in an effort to lead the city “in the best way possible.”

Back in December after Deloach won the runoff election, he told News 3 that he would just Cutter’s performance in the same way anybody else in business would do so. “You look at somebody and you judge their performance. You hold them responsible and you measure them. If they do a great job, you give them a high five and you talk about it in public. If they’re not doing a good job, you get rid of them and find one that does do a good job,” he said

A city spokesman said that personnel issues are normally discussed in executive session and that any votes determining an employee’s status would be taken in public.  (By the way, the city council is responsible for hiring the city manager, city attorney and the clerk of the council.
“The council as a whole would make any decision,” says Thomas.  “It’s not a unilateral decision that would be made by the mayor only. It would be made by the entire council. ”

The reported issue prompted Thomas to ask the city attorney to issue a reminder about Georgia’s Open Meetings laws to all council members.  City Attorney Brooks Stillwell did so on Wednesday.

“I have been asked to provide an opinion regarding the extent to which Georgia’s Open Meetings Act (“OMA” or the “Act”)  permits groups of aldermen, presumably incumbent office holders in a non-public setting, to convene to discuss city policy, employees and other matters,” wrote Stillwell.

He indicated that a quorum of five council members cannot gather and discuss any city related business. His correspondence said the exception was an executive session which was allowed for a number of purposes but Stillwell said any votes had to be made official by voting in a public setting.

Stillwell also ended by writing that “in the past, before the new revisions to the open meetings law made it clear that a “meeting” is a “gathering of a quorum of the members” of a body, the Attorney General took the position that the act applied to less than a quorum in the event the gathering of less than a quorum was held specifically to avoid complying with the open meetings law.  Thus, to be conservative, you should not hold a gathering of less than a quorum to discuss public business, if the purpose of including less than five members is specifically to avoid compliance with the open meeting requirements.”

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