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Thursday, February 24, 2011 - 1:32pm

Racially Divided Council Nominates Manager

A racially-divided Savannah City Council has nominated the city's interim city manager to serve permanently as the city's top municipal administrator.

The council nominated Rochelle Small-Toney after a bitter, months-long fight that led to what some called the city's worst race relations in decades.

Mayor Otis Johnson was part of a 5-4 black majority that nominated Small-Toney, who is black, to the job.

"I am disappointed that this whole thing degenerated to where it is," Johnson says. "I'm happy that we have closed a chapter on this and can move forward."

Since serving as interim chief since last May, Small-Toney has earned respect for her handling of the city's budget.

Many African-Americans have viewed her as their best chance to hire a black person to serve as the city manager, who, under Savannah's charter, handles the day-to-day operations of city government -- with enormous power over business in the city.

"We simply exercised what this country was founded on. And that's majority rule," says Johnson, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement who was the first African-American to desegregate Armstrong Junior College, now Armstrong Atlantic State University. "The majority voted to do this. And that's the American way."

But Small-Toney also sparked ire for inflating city salaries and shuffling around departments.

Alderman Jeff Felser was part of the council's white minority who felt that Small-Toney wasn't the best candidate.

"There are many, many decisions that she has made that were not appropriate," Felser says. "It had nothing to do with race."

Small-Toney now has to work out her job terms with the council.

Savannah's city manager currently makes about $190,000 a year, about $50,000 more than Governor Nathan Deal.

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