Trouble man don’t get in my way.
— Marvin Gaye
The passage of time will no doubt determine whether the goings-on at the Albany City Commission’s meeting Tuesday were indeed beneficial to the city.
As for drama, though, the morning work session was unparalleled.
In short order, the board a) accepted the resignation of City Manager James Taylor, b) made clear that Taylor’s part in granting a “bonus” to risk management employee Veronica Wright was in no way against the city’s charter and was pretty much a done deal, and c) stunned most onlookers by nominating Tom Berry to serve as interim city manager.
How’s that for a morning’s work?
Tuesday’s activity was all the more amazing when you consider that two weeks ago, Taylor and Berry — called by Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard “maybe the best team that’s ever worked together for the city” — were touting an aggressive WG&L budget that would bring considerably more income to the city and were talking openly about extending their stays to see through some changes that they said would be giant steps forward for the community.
Then, a week after that, Berry was out, angrily resigning from his WG&L seat and accusing — by name — four city commissioners of standing in the way of progress. Facing a move back into oversight mode for the utility authority, Taylor started assessing his own options when a former city employee circulated an email accusing the city manager’s office of misconduct by granting a $20,000 bonus to Wright.
Angered by what he said were “false assertions presented through some members of the media,” Taylor told me that he was considering “not even coming back” from his Florida retirement home after the Independence Day holiday. Two days later, in an exclusive interview with The Herald, a much calmer Taylor said he was undecided about his future with the city.
Flash forward to Tuesday, and with a few votes by the commission, Taylor was out as city manager, the bonus issue was declared “dead” by the City Commission, and Berry was nominated to serve as interim city manager, selected over Assistant City Manager Wes Smith and Public Works Director Phil Roberson.
(It should be noted that Roberson’s name surfaced as a candidate because of his 40 years of what most agree has been exemplary service to the city. He’d been asked to consider the position long before Tuesday, and he said he wasn’t interested. Smith, too, said he was not interested in the city manager post on a permanent basis, but he made it clear he was willing to serve on an interim basis.)
But in a heated executive session — voices were raised, and Mayor Dorothy Hubbard’s gavel could be heard slamming on the table during the closed-door session — Berry, who most assumed had closed the book on any chance of further working in the city because of his comments, emerged as the choice to serve as Taylor’s replacement.
Ward II Commissioner Bobby Coleman, one of the infamous four singled out as “dysfunctional” by Berry, had told me in an earlier conversation that he didn’t hold Berry’s words against him and that he could work with Berry again “if it’s what’s best for the city.” True to his word, Coleman cast the deciding vote in Berry’s favor.
Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher, who nominated Berry for the interim position, said, “My hat’s off to Bobby Coleman. 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.”
Berry told me after Tuesday’s surprise commission decision that he planned to meet with Hubbard Tuesday night to discuss the position. As is his custom, he was frank in his assessment: “I only need to be there if it’s beneficial to the city. If I increase the divisiveness of the commission, it’s not a good thing. I don’t know right now if this is the best thing, but, boy, I want the city to move forward.”
There are fences to mend and feelings to soothe, but if everyone feels like Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell — who told me Tuesday, “I can work with anyone who is trying to make this city better” — this strangest of strange-bedfellows arrangement might just work.