Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Asst city manager Small-Toney resigns, blocked access to public records

Charlottesville, Va.- A native of Greensboro, N.C., Rochelle Small-Toney has accepted a job in Savannah, Ga., to begin July 9 for an annual salary of $137,000.

In her new position, she will oversee eight city departments dealing with affordable housing, property maintenance, and economic development, and will "manage some aggressive neighborhood redevelopment plans all over the city" (Savannah lands new assistant city manager).

In her wake, Small-Toney leaves a legacy of unfulfilled commitments and calls by Council candidates for more accountability. Her secret to success is charisma. She sounds so sincere and thoughtful when she speaks. But on followup, she does not keep her word.

As director of the Jefferson School renovation project, Small-Toney is leaving at a time when continuity is most needed. The City Council has decided to sell the school again, this time to a foundation whose directors the Council helped pick to direct the redevelopment. Council first tried to sell the school in 2002 after the school board dispersed the preschool among the six elementary schools. But public outcry forced Council to reverse itself two weeks before closing the sale.

Five years later, the all-black school that opened in 1865, now at its third location since 1926, remains abandoned. The school, founded by Ana Gardner, educated freedmen at First Baptist Church at 632 West Main, which at that time was the converted Delevan Hotel torn down for the 1883 church builing. Jefferson School was the model for all public schools in Virginia when the General Assembly created public education in 1870.

But Small-Toney misled the public on the date of Jefferson School, preferring the 1894 date of the second school house. At first, I thought she was misinformed. But on February 24, she said she's known all along the earlier date and its signficance. But to the audience at the Historical Society that day, she repeated the 1894 date.

Why would she seek to minimize local black heritage and the significance of Jefferson School?

I first met Small-Toney March 25, 2004. She was still acting as interim director of the Housing Authority. The previous director Del Harvey resigned abruptly a year earlier during my campaign for House of Delegates on this issue.

This is when Small-Toney began blocking access to public records, eminent domain documents, urban renewal archives; or more accurately, the files that contain more black history in Charlottesville than can be found at any other single location. And she has been a poor steward of that history.

At that time she said the archives of the Redevelopment and Housing Authority were out on loan to be digitized. Fifteen onths later, when she presented 17 photos for me to photograph, she said she had requested from City Council funds for a museum-grade scannner for the documents. So at that point she must have had all the archives back. Two months later she presented 8 photos of 6 houses. December last year she claimed in a letter that the full archive had been made available.

These events were documented in Charlottesville Independent Media, defunct since early 2006. More recent events relating to urban renewal are documented here on my blog.

In the final analysis, Small-Toney had the opportunity to help heal festering political wounds in this community. Instead she chose to deny medication. What keeps this issue alive is the officials who refuse access to publicly owned historic documents. On November 20 the entire City Council refused to release these archives. So Small-Toney was acting on approval of Council for 3 years leading up to the Council's refusal.

But finally I was allowed to photograph 287 of the photographs. Small-Toney does not know the total number of documents in the collection. She has donated these archives to the Carter G. Woodson Institute, ironically named after a black historian. Along with a donation of assessment records, the number is 6,845.

If there's a bright side to this story, it's this. Small-Toney donated the archives to someone who is more likely to follow through on promises she was unable to keep.

First Baptist Church site of first Jefferson School, Feb. 25, 2007

Update on urban renewal archives: 287 more photos, Feb. 12, 2007

Urban renewal archives now open to public by appointment: Letter from assistant city manager, Dec. 11, 2006

Council refuses to release urban renewal archives: Jefferson School conflict of interest: Blighted House has until Feb 15, Nov. 21, 2006

"An inconvenient truth": Report from Housing Authority: Update on archives, HUD request, Jul. 17, 2006 Includes Mar. 28, 2004 artcile "Housing Authority archives out on loan" documenting first request to view the archives.

$1 million Jefferson School makeover: Council hears 3 B.A.R. appeals, Jun. 25, 2006


Anonymous Anonymous said...

toney now makes $190,000 a year in savannah, what a swindler deal this is!

8/02/2010 12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it is well deserved....quit being a hater Savannah in the know.

1/15/2011 2:23 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

Does anyone in Charlottesville have any info on why Rochelle Small-Toney would not have qualified for the required $1 million bond as Savannah's acting city manager?

2/11/2011 8:43 PM  
Anonymous FMH said...

check out whats happening now to RST - - she is about to lose her job in Savannah

9/04/2012 8:42 PM  
Anonymous SG said...

Update - well, she lost her job in Savannah and now the suckers in Fayetteville, N.C. have her on their hands.

3/16/2013 3:23 PM  

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