‘We get to refocus’: Savannah City Council members hopeful for morale boost following Minter’s resignation

The City of Savannah is officially on the search for a new police chief after Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter announced that he will step down at the end of July. Minter has served as chief since 2018.

In late May Minter was nominated to serve as U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Georgia and will focus on the confirmation process for his nomination, according to city officials.

Savannah City Manager Jay Melder has appointed Assistant Chief Lenny Gunther to serve as interim police chief effective July 30, 2022. Chief Gunther has served the department since 2001.

Lack of transparency, culture of fear: Savannah Police officers rate Chief Minter's performance

The city will launch a nationwide search for Savannah's next chief, but the final decision on a new hire will be Melder's.

"By charter, we have no role in that. And I think it's important that we don't. I mean, my comments are just that as a member of the council, but ultimately, it's a city manager's call," Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said of the upcoming search process on Thursday afternoon.

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Credit: Will Peebles/SavannahNow.com

Credit: Will Peebles/SavannahNow.com

Mayor Van Johnson

Johnson said he had mixed emotions to Thursday's announcement, but it wasn't unexpected following the news of Minter's nomination in May.

“I've had the opportunity to work with Chief Minter both as an alderman and as mayor. We just returned from Germany together. We've been on crime scenes of all types at all times of day and night together. I knew that this day was going to come once it was announced that he was nominated,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he wants to give Gunther an opportunity to see what he can do.

"I don't want to rush so quickly to a national hire and we miss a local opportunity," he said.

"Chief Gunther was raised in the Savannah Police Department and so, I would be interested, but keep in mind that (city council doesn't) hire the police chief, in giving Chief Gunther an opportunity to see what he can do."

District 2, Detric Leggett

District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett said he has confidence in those stepping up to lead SPD through the transition.

"I think that what we have now is some adequate, knowledgeable and more than qualified individuals that can run our police department until we decide whether to hire within or do another nationwide search,” Leggett said.

“I’m proud of what we have. I love what we have, Chief (Lenny) Gunther and Maj. (Devonn) Adams and the rest of the leadership team. I think that with this change we will have a definite boost in morale. I think it’ll bring our police department a little closer and it will give us a boost in the community as well.”

Leggett said a new thought process on how to move forward at SPD was needed.

“I welcome the challenge of having a change in leadership, but at the same time I support what our city manager is doing, and I support our police department and its leadership,” he said.

“The only thing I can do now is definitely give some reassurance to the community that we do have a police department that is capable and a police department that has the community first.”

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Credit: Kyunnie Shuman/City of Savannah

Credit: Kyunnie Shuman/City of Savannah

District 3, Linda Wilder Bryan

District 3 Alderwoman Linda Wilder Bryan said Thursday's announcement was great news and will help to turn the page in the direction that council wants to proceed.

"I understand from being a POST-certified officer that there should be some synergy and some continuity, and we did that by using Gunther and having him as the interim police chief, while we take our time to get a better fit for what's going on in this community," she said.

Wilder Bryan is also confident that Gunther's appointment will boost productivity and morale in the department.

"So, it is my personal belief that today was a good day in Savannah. We get to make a decision on who we want in that office. We get to refocus, redirect and keep pushing," she said.

District 4, Nick Palumbo

District 4 Alderman Nick Palumbo said he wished Minter well as he looks to join the U.S. Marshall Service, which would allow him to continue to serve the area, but in a different capacity.

“... There's a lot of different (federal) agencies out there and duties and responsibilities, all of which can help our area in the fight against violent crime. And so, we need as many allies as we can get," he said.

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Palumbo also remains confident in Gunther's leadership.

"I know Chief Gunther personally, having worked with him in the neighborhood association and on the council, and believe he's an ideal candidate to serve as acting chief while we boot up for a nationwide search for the next best candidate we can find."

District 5, Estella Shabazz

Mayor Pro Tem and District 5 Alderwoman Estella Shabazz echoed Leggett's confidence in local leadership, and said she'd like to see a focus put on hiring local and from within once the search gets off the ground.

“I've had the opinion, and still do, that Savannah has everything it needs (to find a local leader),” she said.

“We have very qualified and professional men and women already in our police department that can step up to the plate and step up to this position through all of their training and knowledge and education, their professionalism. I can put a few of them on one hand that's ready to do this job."

Shabazz also congratulated Minter on his nomination.

"I congratulate him on this national position that he is about to enter into. I am very thankful for the work and leadership that he has given to the City of Savannah Police Department," she said.

District 6, Kurtis Purtee

Like several of his colleagues District 6 Alderman Kurtis Purtee said with this change in leadership he is hopeful to see a morale change in the police department.

"I wish Roy Minter the best in his future endeavors. The next few months are critical as Interim Chief Gunther leads the department through this violent crime crisis. I am awaiting a plan for recruitment and retention as well as a resource shift to help curb violent crime in our community," Purtee said in a text to the Savannah Morning News.

Post 1 At-Large, Kesha Gibson-Carter

In a text statement to the Savannah Morning News, Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter said Thursday's decision should have been made a year ago.

"I am forever grateful to the citizens of Savannah who mobilized and made a public outcry for Chief Minter’s resignation. The City Manager, Jay Melder’s announcement is void acknowledgment of the state of our city and police department—we are not better off. Savannah’s crime is worse than what Minter inherited and to say anything else would be disingenuous," she said.

Under Minter's leadership Gibson-Carter said the department has experienced a mass exodus of tenured, skilled and respected officers, became less diverse and representative of the community and saw an increase in officer-involved shootings along with increased gun violence and homicides.

In addition, he leaves the department with morale lower than it has ever been, she said.

Gibson-Carter said she, Alderwoman Alicia Miller Blakely and Bernetta Lanier have called for an executive session to discuss issues of personnel, but city leadership and other council members have resisted the request.

“As a result of them insulating the chief, and relegating our community’s safety and police department’s health to his career opportunities, we have lost vulnerable citizens and valuable police officers,” she said.

Gibson-Carter said Minter's departure signals an opportunity for a 'very capable' Assistant Chief Gunther to begin the process of healing a very wounded police department.

"It is my hope that some of our officers who resigned will come back as they will be met with better leadership. I know this isn't the typical response, but honesty is the road I have chosen and what Savannah deserves," she said.

The Savannah Morning News has reached out to Blakely and Lanier for comment on Minter's resignation.

Katie Nussbaum is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at knussbaum@savannahnow.com. Twitter: KnussSMN

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: ‘We get to refocus’: Savannah City Council members hopeful for morale boost following Minter’s resignation