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Lott one step away from Savannah post; racism alleged

By   /   January 26, 2011  /   Comments

Staff reports

Amid a controversy mired with allegations of racism, Albany City Manager Alfred Lott was named today as one of two finalists for the Savannah city manager job. The other candidate is Rochelle Small-Toney, Savannah’s interim city manager.

The Savannah City Council vote to name Lott and Toney the two finalists was 4-3. A committee travel to Albany to conduct additional interviews on Lott and Small-Toney will be interviewed in Savannah, the Savannah Morning News reported.

After those interviews, the council will decide what step it next wants to take – likely either offering the job to one of the candidates or restarting the search process.

The matter was discussed extensively today behind closed doors in executive session, after which three of the seven aldermen said Lott and Small-Toney were not among the two best candidates for the job. Indeed, Jeff Felser and called today’s executive session the worst and most embarassing of all her 11 years in public service, the Morning News reported.

The Savannah newspaper also reported Mayor Otis Johnson as saying the opposition is racially motivated because Lott and Small-Toney are black.

Lott’s tenure has been plagued with mishaps since he left his Takoma Park, Md., public work director’s post in September 2005 to become Albany’s city manager. When the Albany City Commission met with Lott last summer summer to force his resignation, Mayor Willie Adams convinced a majority of the commissioners  to allow Lott to remain on the job for nearly 13 months — until July 2011 – to give him to find another job.

If Lott is the successful candidate for the post to lead Savannah’s municipal government, he will be reunited with Shirley Smith, who sued Lott after he fired her as the city finance director. The suit remains active in Dougherty County Superior Court.

Lott, who is being forced from his job as city manager by the City Commission and has submitted his resignation effective July 31, is among four finalists for the Savannah city manager’s position. Smith is an accountant in Savannah’s Leisure Services Bureau.

Lott fired Smith in 2006, months after lauding Smith’s performance and rewarding her with a bonus and city car, after City Commissioner Tommie Postell caught Lott in a cover-up of a business trip Smith made to Canada. Lott, who falsely claimed that he did not know about Smith’s trip, suspended Smith and then paid a consultant $15,000 – $2,500 a day – of taxpayers’ money for the investigation and scathing report that resulted in Smith’s firing.

The consultant, Gloria Wright of Lawrenceville, Ga., reported that Smith’s employees claimed that – in addition to managing by fear and intimidation — Smith fleeced taxpayers by having employees perform personal work for her while on the job, and changed appraisal scores to benefit some employees and victimize others.

However, while Lott says that Wright was hired to examine the Finance Department’s leadership culture, public records show that Wright was hired to build a termination case against Smith. Records show that Wright’s missions, as defined by  Lott, included investigating Smith “regarding allegations of blatant retaliation and vindictiveness,” and for “blatantly showing favoritism to certain employees to the detriment of the mission.” Public records also confirm that Wright was hired by Lott in violation of the city charter without soliciting competitive bids for the job and that Lott and Wright discussed Smith’s potential termination before Wright was hired.

Public records reviewed by the Albany Journal, meanwhile, confirm Ms. Smith’s account that Lott threatened to seek prosecution of Smith on Aug. 22, 2006 as he sought her resignation. The records previously had been withheld from the public – an apparent violation of the Georgia Open Records law. In a Sept. 7, 2006 letter to Smith, Lott also confirmed that he offered Ms. Smith three months’ severance pay in return Lott not publicly disclosing Wright’s report of “egregious managerial malfeasance in the Finance Department.”

Smith fired back, asking Lott to rescind the suspension.

“Deborah Brown, Executive Administrative Assistant, discussed with you the fact that she was accompanying me on the trip to Canada (at her expense). In fact, Mrs. Brown stated that you suggested that she brush up on her French …” Ms. Smith penned. “I was confident that you were very aware of my prior approved trip and had no problem with it since Mrs. Brown had discussed this with you … “Your disciplinary actions are extremely severe and unfair,” she wrote. “My understanding of the term ‘disingenuous’ is to be dishonest, shrewd, underhanded, or deceitful, in other words, to be a liar. NONE of these terms describes me at all.

“I take exception to being called a liar and a cheat and I feel that to refer to me as such hints of slander and threatens my professional reputation. Under my administration as Finance Director, the City of Albany for the first time ever is now in a mode of financial solvency. A lying, cheating, dishonest, shrewd, deceitful individual would never have been able to accomplish this feat in any organization.”

Like fired Civic Center Director Mattie Goddard before her and former Human Resources Director Mary LaMont since, Smith says that Lott used lies and coercion to force her from her job. Smith’s longstanding suit against Lott and the city, meanwhile, remains in the hands of Superior Court Judge Denise Marshall. In the suit, Smith alleges that Lott’s critical and false statements about her to the news media and to a prospective employer have been slanderous and damaged Smith’s reputation and career.

“(We) request that you cease and assist (sic) from publishing false, misleading and malicious statements about Ms. Smith or her job as Finance Director for the City of Albany …” Ms. Smith’s attorney, Christopher G. Moorman, said in a 2006 letter to the city before filing suit.  “We believe that certain communications by Mr. Lott about Ms. Smith are or may be defamatory under Georgia law … Mr. Lott and the City seem to have adopted the report by Gloria Wright and have published additional information regarding Ms. Smith which we believe to be untrue, malicious and defamatory.”

The Albany City Commission is spending $20,000 on a headhunting firm to help find a replacement for Lott, who claimed upon submitting his resignation last year that he would leave Albany to move to the Northeast to be near his family. His resignation is effective July 31.

City Commission members refuse to discuss Lott’s departure publicly. Privately, some City Commission members say that Lott is being strongly encouraged to vacate his office by January because of his management failures, including federal employment law violations that resulted in complaints filed by LaMont.

LaMont has audiotapes and other evidence documenting that the City is systematically discriminatory and retaliatory, is continuing with her federal complaint against the City with the intention of filing a lawsuit.  She said in November that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told her the City had agreed to mediation in exchange for her audiotaped evidence of illegal and unethical employment practices, including retaliatory discharge and racial and sexual discrimination by Lott and other city officials.

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