Editorial: Civil changes in Anniston — City is wise to move employees out from under civil-service board
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Feb 04, 2014 | 2844 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brian Johnson. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Brian Johnson. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
When Anniston hired Brian Johnson as city manager last fall, one of his mandates was, in essence, to make the city and its staff more efficient. That task isn’t simple.

The reasons are obvious. Anniston, though Calhoun County’s largest city, is shrinking, population-wise, yet still is staffed for its previous size. Counting its police and fire departments, it has more than 300 employees; some departments are over-staffed, others not so. A former Army post sits within the city’s limits. Aging infrastructure — sewer and water pipes, for instance — is a major concern. Retail development needs a serious jump-start. The list goes on and on.

As The Star’s Patrick McCreless reported last week, Johnson and Mayor Vaughn Stewart want to remove about 139 employees from Anniston’s civil service system. (The police and fire departments wouldn’t be affected.) Doing so requires passage of a bill in the state Legislature — which, given the snail’s pace often used by Montgomery lawmakers, could delay Anniston’s request.

Nevertheless, the goal, Johnson says, would be to give the city more flexibility in hiring and staffing of departments. That’s a goal Annistonians should support because (a.) it will make city staff more efficient and (b.) it could greatly enhance minority hiring, an area in which City Hall is often criticized.

We understand why Johnson was quick last week to say this potential alteration isn’t designed to make it easier for the city manager to fire employees. Civil service boards oversee all sorts of personnel matters for city workers, not the least of which are terminations. Removing staff from under board control would allow the city manager more leeway in personnel matters, though terminations may still need some sort of review process.

That said, we urge Annistonians to listen to Johnson’s reasoning before passing judgment.

In our mind, consider this a proactive measure by the Stewart City Hall, which seems to understand that Anniston’s majority-black population does not resemble its majority-white city staff, and that the staff charged with addressing big challenges needs an increase in its metabolism.

If Johnson had board-free control of hiring, he could employ the best candidates, white and black, and not lose out on qualified candidates who fare poorly on a civil-service test that might not apply to their respective jobs.

Likewise, a staff free of board requirements would allow Johnson to manage employees with flexibility — a trait most managers crave that’s perfectly in line with 2014 workplace reality. Anniston is paying Johnson a handsome salary to oversee the city’s staff, so it’s smart to free him from a rigid system that makes it difficult to properly use city manpower.

Don’t consider this civil service board change a graven mistake. Consider it the best, and most efficient, use of Anniston’s taxpayer-funded employees.
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