Can a burned bridge be repaired this quickly?

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Many were surprised by decision to offer interim city manager job to Tom Berry

If Tom Berry returns to the city of Albany as interim city manager, it may well be the quickest reconstruction of a burned-out bridge in history.

Meanwhile, we wish former City Manager James Taylor, who resigned Tuesday, the best. In our dealings with him, he has always been a stand-up man of integrity. He deserved a better fate.

After the news was first reported on albanyherald.com Tuesday that Taylor, who had been pondering his tenure as Albany city manager while out of town for the Independence Day holiday, had submitted his resignation letter, the City Commission, which had been meeting in a work session, went into a closed meeting to discuss personnel matters.

When the commissioners emerged, they accepted Taylor’s letter unanimously. Then, in the first vote on a slate of three nominations for interim city manager, commissioners voted 4-3 to offer the job to Tom Berry, who until June 26 had been serving as the Water, Gas & Light Commission’s general manager.

Berry resigned that day effective the end of June following a June 25 Albany City Commission meeting that obviously had left him frustrated. At issue was a proposed City Charter change that would allow WG&L to spend up to $250,000 without first having the expenditure approved by the City Commission. Berry was particularly critical of four city commissioners — Tommie Postell, Roger Marietta, Jon Howard and Bobby Coleman — and words were not minced regarding his opinion of their performances as elected leaders.

As many in Albany were, when contacted by The Herald Tuesday, Berry said, “Frankly, I’m surprised by the vote.”

Indeed, perhaps the most surprising aspect of it all — and most heartening — was the action of Coleman. In interviews with The Herald last week, he said he held no ill will toward Berry for airing his criticism. He said he respected Berry for the work he did, but that he disagreed with the manner in which Berry and Taylor were proceeding.

On Tuesday, Coleman joined Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and commissioners Bob Langstaff and B.J. Fletcher in voting to offer the job to the man who had publicly criticized him. We have no doubt Berry’s comments stung, but Coleman rose to the level of statesmanship — a rarity in Albany politics — by voting for what he thought was best for the community.

And Berry, if he accepts the job, does bring much to the table in a city that has two major jobs — city manager and downtown manager — vacant and another major job — assistant city manager for utilities — being filled on an interim basis by Stephen Collier, who is experiencing on-the-job training in it. The collective loss since June 30 of Berry from WG&L, Taylor from the city and Aaron Blair from the downtown manager’s position means Albany has critical holes to fill. Berry clearly has organizational skills, and he would be a strong resource for Collier.

One thing we learned Tuesday is just how fast things can move, and how quickly they can change direction. Today, we may find out whether that bridge can be repaired, and whether it can add some direction for a city that needs it.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board