Albany City Manager James Taylor has submitted a letter of resignation to the city of Albany. (File photo)
Albany WG&L Interim General Manager Tom Berry resigns
In an exclusive interview with The Albany Herald, Water, Gas & Light Commission Interim General Manager Tom Berry explains why he resigned Thursday morning and says some of Albany's elected leaders, who he says base decisions on assumptions instead of facts, are hindering the community's ability to grow.
ALBANY — The Albany City Commission voted 7-0 today after an extended executive session to accept the resignation of City Manager James Taylor. Then, in a surprise move, commissioners voted 4-3 to name former interim Water, Gas & Light Commission General Manager Tom Berry interim city manager.
Reached after the meeting, Berry said he plans to meet with Mayor Dorothy Hubbard tonight to discuss the job.
“Yes, I’m a little surprised by the vote,” Berry, who criticized four city commissioners by name during his WG&L resignation announcement June 26, said. “But my concern is, I only need to be there if it’s beneficial to the city. If it increases the divisiveness of the City Commission, it’s not a good thing.”
There was much speculation surrounding Taylor’s future as the commission gathered for its lone work session of the month. He had been the center of a controversy surrounding the awarding of a $20,000 bonus to a risk management employee, which Taylor told The Albany Herald he’d done for “business reasons.”
Many noted the absence of the city manager’s vehicle in its usual parking space as the meeting began. The Herald learned, and reported on its www.albanyherald.com website before the meeting started, that Taylor had submitted a letter of resignation.
The letter, which had initially been dated July 1 but had been altered to July 8, said in part: “Please accept this as my formal letter of resignation, effective immediately. Since our retreat in early February of this year, I have expressed my desire to leave this position; at that time the commission asked that I stay to assist in finding my replacement. …
“As recently as two weeks ago I advised City Commission members, with others present, that I would not return to the city manager’s position after the July 4th holiday.”
Taylor also addressed the bonus given to Veronica Wright in his resignation letter. He indicated that he’d planned to come back to “address the false assertions presented through some members of the media.”
"… I canvassed the opinions of friends and family, and I have decided that anything I say will keep dust in the air and not permit the city to heal and move forward as I know it must,” Taylor wrote. “I do apologize for these distractions, and over the next few weeks I may attempt to address this issue should anyone care to hear my side of the story, not that there is much to tell.
“The simple truth is, I did what I thought I was hired to do, manage the city and all of its assets to the best of my ability. Be certain that I have always done what I thought was in the best interest of the city, and I am certain time will bear out the validity of my actions.”
Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff, along with Hubbard and Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell, praised Taylor before the vote was taken on his resignation.
“I think Mr. Taylor did a fantastic job for the city,” Langstaff said. “He’s been telling us for at least the last six months that he’s tired and needed to move on. I begged him to stay much longer than he wanted.”
Langstaff called for an closed session early into today’s commission meeting, but his motion was voted down 4-3. Most in the audience still did not know of Taylor’s pending resignation when Hubbard recognized former Mayor Willie Adams. She asked Adams if he had anything he wanted to say.
“I came here today because I’m disturbed about some of the things I’ve been hearing about our city manager,” Adams, who was celebrating his 74th birthday, said. “Mr. Taylor has contacted me, and he has resigned. Col. Taylor has always been a tremendous leader, and I don’t think his integrity has ever been in question. Anyone who reaches full colonel in the Marine Corps is a man of integrity; they don’t just hand that (rank) out to anyone.
“I feel like I’m almost at a wake today. I feel that this city is losing a good person. I would say to this body: Please, whatever decisions you make in the future, make them in the best interest of the citizens of the city, not on how many votes you will get during the next election.”
Both Postell and Hubbard said the issue with the bonus is closed.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric in the community about Mr. Taylor or Ms. Wright giving that money back,” Postell said. “He doesn’t have to give the money back, and she doesn’t have to give a dime of the money back. Let the record show, he had a $40,000 privilege and he used that privilege in a way that he thought was serving the city.”
Hubbard said, “Based on the (city) charter, Mr. Taylor had a right to give a bonus without our acknowledgement. One thing that I’m disappointed about is that we did not hear his side of the story. I hope that one day soon he will come forward and tell his side.”
At the conclusion of the executive session, Hubbard called for a vote on Taylor’s resignation. Immediately following that vote, she asked if there were nominations for an interim city manager. Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher nominated Berry, Ward I’s Jon Howard nominated current Assistant City Manager Wes Smith and Langstaff nominated current Public Works Director Phil Roberson.
Hubbard said she would take votes in the order of the nominations. When she called Berry’s name, she, Fletcher, Langstaff and Ward II Commissioner Bobby Coleman raised their hands, closing the nomination process.
In his blistering resignation, Berry said he was frustrated with four Albany city commissioners, including Coleman.
Coleman had said last week in an interview with The Herald that he could work with Berry again if the opportunity presented itself.
“I don’t hold what he said against him,” Coleman said. “I believe when a man has a problem, he should call it out. If I thought it was the best thing for the city, I could work with Tom Berry tomorrow.”
Fletcher praised Coleman for his vote.
“My hat’s off to Bobby Coleman,” she said after Tuesday’s meeting. “Today, he put the taxpayers first, and that is the job description for a city commissioner. My hope going forward is that the rest of us will follow his lead.”
While Postell did not vote for Berry’s appointment, he said he was willing to work with the nominee.
“I want to make sure we’re communicating, and the best way for that to happen is to have a conversation with Mr. Berry,” Postell said after the meeting. “I accept the way he feels about things, and I want to tell him how I feel. I don’t intend to do anything that will hurt this city. If we all put the city first, I believe we can all work together. That’s what I’m willing to do.”
Berry said that time may not allow it, but he hoped to meet individually with the seven members of the commission before making a decision.
“I know they need an answer quick, but I’m willing to talk with all of the commissioners one-on-one if the opportunity presents itself,” he said.
Hubbard said she thinks the commission will work with Berry if he accepts the position.
“It’s important that we move forward, and it’s important that we move forward with a person who has the knowledge to help us move forward,” the mayor said. “There may be some hard feelings (between some commissioners and Berry) now, but we have to move past that. Listen, if I let people talking about me stop me, I’d never get things done. People talk about me every day.
“I just hope everyone will focus on moving this city forward.”