The Anniston City Council on Tuesday voted to start the process of hiring a new city manager, choosing candidate Jay Johnson.
The measure passed on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman David Reddick voting no.
“I think Bell would have made a better city manager. He looks like the majority of the city. He’s a better person. So I’m going to say no to Johnson because I’m in support of Bell,” Reddick said, referring to Troy Bell.
During the council’s interview with Johnson, Reddick said he believed race was a factor in Johnson, who is white, being at first the only candidate brought to Anniston for a follow-up interview. The council later agreed to host Bell, who is African-American, for an in-person interview.
Councilwoman Millie Harris said Tuesday that she voted for Johnson because he had 14 years experience as a city manager of Franklin, Tenn., compared to Bell’s four months experience as a city manager for Walla Walla, Wash.
“This absolutely has not one iota of anything to do with race,” she said.
“Who brought up race?” Reddick asked Harris. “I think Bell would have made a better city manager. He’s got experience we need for this city, and he ain’t ready to retire.”
The council on Tuesday also voted to award a contract to Christian & Associates Architects of Anniston for work associated with the Greyhound Bus Depot portion of the National Freedom Riders Park. The work includes a historical structure report and investigations into any possible environmental hazards at the site.
The measure passed 3-1 with Reddick abstaining and Councilman Ben Little voting no. Little said contract was unlawful because architect David Christian is on the city’s Planning Commission board.
Little asked city attorney Bruce Downey to read a section of the city’s law that read in part “no member of the council, officer or employee, elected or appointed, shall be interested directly or indirectly in any contract for work.”
“If an individual wants to make some money, get the heck off the board,” Little said.
Interim City Manager Cory Salley told the council that he requested an opinion from Downey about Little’s concerns with contract.
Downey said that he found an advisory opinion from the Alabama attorney general stating that a Planning Commission board member was not considered an officer of the city. Downey said that fact, coupled with a total disconnection between the park contract and the Planning Commission, led him to the conclusion that Christian had no conflict of interest.
Reddick asked if he consulted representatives of the Alabama League of Municipalities about the question.
Downey said he didn’t need to consult them to answer the question of Christian and any conflict of interest.
“You’re not hiring yourself — you’re hired by this council,” Little yelled to Downey.
Reddick said he didn’t feel comfortable voting on it, but a measure to table the resolution failed.
Near the end of the meeting, Little said the contract issue has “increased my thoughts about the city’s legal representation — or lack thereof.”
Downey said he would not be insulted and left the council chambers.
“If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen,” Little said as Downey left the room.
In other business, the council:
- Approved a proclamation naming the overpass of U.S. 431 over Alabama 21 in honor of former Anniston Mayor Gene Stedham, who died earlier this year.
- Appointed two members to the Anniston Museum of Natural History board: Hannah Downing, nominated by Draper, and Tony Smoke, nominated by Reddick. Little objected to Smoke’s appointment because he is not a resident of Reddick’s ward. Little said it’s important for the council to pull candidates from their respective wards to ensure the city’s boards are representative of the whole community.
“I don’t want to create a Hitler — a blond-haired, blue-eyed board,” Little said.
Reddick said that sometimes the council might have to look outside a particular ward to get the best candidate.
- Voted to hire the law firm Beasley Allen of Montgomery to represent the city in a suit against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids. Many city and county governments are entering into such suits to recoup expenses associated with overdoses and crime stemming from the abuse of prescription drugs. If the firm wins a settlement, they will receive 33 percent, plus expenses, from the city’s share.
- Voted to reimburse a city employee $114 for attending an event for municipal magistrates in Montgomery.
- Voted to install a fire hydrant at 1010 Golden Springs Road.
Assistant Metro Editor Daniel Gaddy: 256-235-3560. On Twitter: @DGaddy_Star.