Anniston amends plan for civil service system change
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Feb 14, 2014 | 4292 views |  0 comments | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson
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Anniston will exempt all current employees from legislation to change its hiring and disciplining procedures, addressing workers' concerns over maintaining their rights, according to a revision of the bill.

Anniston has finalized a bill it wants introduced in the state Legislature to remove certain employees from the city's civil service system. The bill, announced earlier this month, previously would have removed 139 non-public safety workers from the system. Now it grandfathers them in and would only apply to new hires. It's a change that will make Anniston’s municipal workforce more flexible and efficient while also addressing some workers' concerns that they might lose some of their employee protections, city officials said Friday.

Before the bill can be introduced in the Legislature, the city must advertise for 30 days its intention to propose the bill. Residents can look at a copy of the bill at Anniston City Hall as early as Monday.

City Manager Brian Johnson said the change was made to the bill after speaking with all city employees and local state legislators.

"I wanted to show that we're not trying to get rid of anybody ... they will be allowed to stay in civil service until the end of their career," Johnson said of the bill. "It's always just been about flexibility."

Johnson said that having employees outside of the restrictions of the civil service system will allow him to more quickly rearrange city departments to better meet city needs. For instance, the Anniston City Council intends to better combat city blight, a process that would be easier if certain city employees were shifted to code enforcement, Johnson said.

"If we tried to do that through the civil service system ... we're possibly looking at months and months before final approval," Johnson said.

The city's civil service system, established in 1953, is governed by a three-member board, which according to state law has the power to make rules and regulations governing such things as worker examinations, transfers, salaries, promotions, demotions, suspensions and firings. The intention of the law was to combat patronage in local governments. Civil service board members are appointed by a consensus of Anniston's state legislators.

Anniston's legislation, if passed, will place all new employees under the oversight of the city manager.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he and his fellow local legislators support the bill in its latest form.

"Based on my conversations with the city, I don't see any problems with it," Marsh said. "I'm ready to support it in the Senate ... I think it has a good chance of getting through."

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, said he also supported the latest bill.

"We got all the differences ironed out ... all the employees will be happy and the city will be happy," Wood said. "That's what we're doing — looking after the constituents."

Civil Service board member George Monk said he disapproved of removing city employees from the civil service system, even though current workers would be grandfathered in under the new legislation. Attempts to reach board members Randy Third and George Bates were unsuccessful Thursday and Friday.

"I believe that is moving away from a system that is providing checks and balances ... and has been for many years and worked really, really well," Monk said.

Monk, a former Anniston city manager, said he worked within the civil service system for years and understands its effectiveness in protecting employees from being fired arbitrarily. Monk also said that while he did not expect the current council to abuse a weakened civil service system, other future councils might be inclined to do so.

Monk added that the board is willing to make some changes to the system, but has not yet been officially approached by the council. He added that the board has yet to see any version of the legislation.

"The devil of it is, we have not seen a thing," Monk said.

Johnson said he has met with Monk on multiple occasions to discuss the matter.

"I'm not sure what their expectations are as far as a formal line of communication," Johnson said, referring to Civil Service Board members. "The city council is not necessarily going to do anything as a group in any formal way."

Johnson said that while it’s good that the board is willing to make changes within the civil service system to make it more user friendly, that still does not address his and the city's overall needs.

"If the civil service in any capacity provides any inflexibility, if it inhibits our ability to restructure, I'm sure not for that," Johnson said. "There are no internal changes that can be made to address that."

Johnson added that future employees will still have protections through the city's employee policy manual. He said there is further protection through state law, which makes it a crime for council members to inject themselves into personnel issues and, for instance, demand a city manager fire an employee.

"I agree there is no perfect system," Johnson said. "But I don't think the city has the luxury right now of maintaining an archaic bureaucratic process because there might be a problem in the future."

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

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