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Questions linger as Albany city manager ponders future

James Taylor says he’s still weighing his options

ALBANY — As today’s Albany City Commission work session neared, one thing in the ongoing saga of embattled City Manager James Taylor remained certain.

Uncertainty.

Following a weekend in which “$20,000 bonus” and “Taylor’s future” were red-hot topics of community-wide discussion, word leaked that a “solid group of four, maybe five commissioners” was poised to ask for Taylor’s resignation if the city manager did not resign on his own. Conversation with the city’s six commissioners — Mayor Dorothy Hubbard was in Columbus and unavailable — Monday indicated that such a coalition was not in place.

“There’s plenty that I’ve disagreed with Mr. Taylor about since I’ve been in office, but I’m a proponent of due process,” Ward II Commissioner Bobby Coleman said. “If the City Commission decides as a body that he has worn out his welcome, I’ll be guided by their vote. But I’m not going to be the one who puts myself out there calling for his resignation.”

Ward VI Commissioner Tommy Postell said Monday the issue of the $20,000 bonus approved by Taylor for a risk management employee — a bonus that Taylor readily told The Albany Herald he had granted for “business reasons” — has been “blown out of proportion,” and the commissioner with the second-longest tenure said he doesn’t believe there will be an attempt to remove Taylor from office unwillingly.

“I don’t think there are enough votes,” Postell said after a Long-Term Financial Planning Committee meeting. “If he were to come in and say this was an issue of theft, of misuse of funds, I’d be the first to say he has to go. But, according to everything I’ve heard and according to the city charter, he has not done anything illegal.”

Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard and Ward V’s Bob Langstaff said they wouldn’t make up their minds about Taylor’s future until they’d had an opportunity to talk with the city manager, who was on vacation in Florida through the Independence Day holiday.

“I know from my days under (former city managers) Roy Lane, Janice Allen Jackson and Al Lott that bonuses have been given in the past, although not of this magnitude,” Howard, who has been on the commission for 20 years, said. “I’d like to talk with him about (his future), especially about his health. If that is going to hinder him, then, yes, I think he should bow out gracefully.

“But I haven’t considered calling for him to resign. I’d just like for everything about this situation to be put out on the table.”

Langstaff said he expects Taylor to explain the bonus issue, no matter what he decides about his future employment.

“Even for those little old widow ladies who’ve made up their minds about the issue, I would hope that — at the very least — Mr. Taylor would write a letter to the editor or do a guest editorial explaining (the bonus) situation,” Langstaff said. “At the very least, it would give (detractors) pause.

“I don’t know yet how I feel about this situation because I haven’t talked with Mr. Taylor about it. I’m going to call him later to see what his plans are, but if he comes back I just hope he’s ready to explain this situation so we can move forward.”

Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said she, too, is concerned about Taylor’s health.

“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Taylor,” she said. “Even so, I believe anybody who is not in a position to give their all to the city should start thinking about setting a (resignation) date. The community deserves everyone’s best.”

Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta said he’s already told Hubbard he doesn’t support a call for resignation from Taylor, but he did say he felt that the city manager and former Water, Gas & Light Commission interim General Manager Tom Berry didn’t trust the City Commission.

“I believe (Berry and Taylor) didn’t trust us, and that’s why they were trying to pass the charter change (that would allow the WG&L board to make decisions on acquisitions up to $250,000), because they knew the City Commission would ask questions that the Water, Gas & Light board wouldn’t,” Marietta said. “You tag that onto this bonus thing that was handled wrong, and there are things that Mr. Taylor should answer for.

“I think that’s why Tom Berry quit, he saw the writing on the wall. And I believe Mr. Taylor sees his house of cards starting to fall apart. I think we should allow him the opportunity to leave honorably, but he should explain these things to us.”

Coleman said he’s surprised at attempts by some commissioners to try and force Taylor out.

“It’s odd to me that some of the people who are trying to force Mr. Taylor to resign are some of the people who have been his biggest cheerleaders,” Coleman said. “They’ve publicly supported him and are now publicly coming out against him. I think too many people have approached this thing from a panicky position. They let emotions take over rather than reason.”

Contacted Monday afternoon, Taylor said he is weighing his options.

“I still don’t know where I am with all this,” he said. “I’ll return a few phone calls and think things over before making a decision.”