Anniston city manager to initiate technology, employee policy, zoning upgrades
by Patrick McCreless
Nov 24, 2013 | 3321 views |  0 comments | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart speaks at a retreat the City Council and City Manager Brian Johnson held Friday and Saturday at the new Alagasco office at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Joey D'Anna)
Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart speaks at a retreat the City Council and City Manager Brian Johnson held Friday and Saturday at the new Alagasco office at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Joey D'Anna)
When it comes to certain technologies, employee policies and zoning ordinances, Anniston appears stuck in the 20th century.

But not for much longer.

Anniston City Manager Brian Johnson plans to soon update citywide computer software along with city's zoning ordinances and employee policies to 21st century standards — smoothing city operations and deterring potential lawsuits.

Johnson presented his plans to the Anniston City Council Saturday during the final session of a two-day special retreat. Johnson has used the retreat to tell the council what he has learned about the city's departments during his first six weeks on the job and improvements he has planned.

Johnson said the upgrades will incur some one-time costs that are not appropriated in the 2014 budget. Johnson did not yet have exact figures, but estimated the technology upgrades will cost between $10,000 and $20,000. He estimated that consulting fees for the policy and zoning updates could cost up to $10,000.

Johnson plans to begin upgrading efforts in the coming weeks. The council will amend the budget later next year to reflect any costs incurred through the changes.

"If I didn't get your blessing now ... then I'd have to go back and tell people to slam on the brakes and stop spending in other areas," Johnson said to the council. "These are things I don't need."

Johnson said the technology improvements will consist of updating all the city departments' software programs so they all work efficiently with each other. Johnson noted that many city software programs are from the 1990s.

"It all works now, but many programs are so old that we can't even upgrade others because they would no longer work with each other," Johnson said.

Johnson said many of the city's personnel policies are a patchwork of documents that need updating and clarification. For instance, the city has no clear policy on employees using social media during work hours.

He said updating the policies will help the city avoid employee lawsuits.

“Nothing can cost this city more money than improper management of personnel,” Johnson said. “It's not something you want to mess with.”

Johnson summed up the city's convoluted zoning ordinances with one word.

"Wow," Johnson said. "That's really all I can say."

Johnson said there are a lot of good things in the city's zoning laws, but as an entire document, it’s piecemeal. Through updating zoning, property developers will have an easier and less confusing time dealing with the city.

"We really need to do this big-time," Mayor Vaughn Stewart said.

Also during the meeting, the council requested Johnson look into creating more accountability regarding council member travel expenditures. Each council member has $7,000 for travel expenses in the 2014 budget.

Councilman Jay Jenkins suggested council members give each other a heads up before traveling long distances and provide written reports of their travel expenses at council work sessions.

"We've been asking everyone else to do it so we'd better do it ourselves," Jenkins said of budget accountability.

Johnson said he will create a written travel policy, which the council can later review and tweak if necessary before voting to approve it.

During the meeting, Johnson also discussed the possibility of using up to $300,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money for create outdoor recreation sites that could one day be tied into Chief Ladiga Trail. The city plans to extend the trail through parts of the city in the coming years.

Johnson said the CDBG money comes through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and would have to be used on projects that just benefit low-income residents. He said certain rail lines, such a section that runs behind Cheaha Brewing Company in downtown Anniston toward 15th Street, could be converted into walking and biking trails with the money. One caveat, however, is that for the projects to be eligible for the money, they'd have to be more than standard trails. They'd have to include benches, lighting, bike stations and outdoor fitness equipment, Johnson said.

Once completed, these trail corridors could later be tied into to the Chief Ladiga Trail, Johnson said.

"But if we do this, we'll have the money," Johnson said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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