Anniston’s city council hired a city manager Tuesday in a contentious meeting at the City Meeting Center.
No one had a bad word for Steven Folks, the interim city manager who had “interim” taken off his title Tuesday. But one councilman objected to the fact that the hire seemed to be added to the meeting agenda at the last minute.
“I have nothing against Mr. Folks,” said Councilman Ben Little. “It’s about procedure and due process.”
The council voted 4-1 to appoint Folks as city manager, pending contract negotiations. His current salary as interim is $130,000 per year. Little cast the sole no vote.
Folks, a retired soldier and former director of the city’s Parks and Recreation department, became interim city manager in June, after former City Manager Jay Johnson resigned. Earlier in the year, Johnson, who is white, filed a racial discrimination and workplace harrassment against Little and Councilman David Reddick, who are black.
Folks was well-known and well-liked as parks director. He oversaw the installation of a splash pad at Zinn Park in 2014 and played a key role in the conversion of an old Army gym into the city’s Aquatic Center in 2012.
“He’s a consummate professional,” said Mayor Jack Draper. Three other members of the five-member council offered praise for Folks. A handful of people in the audience also rose to speak in favor of Folks.
“Either way you look at it, we’re making a little history,” said Glen Ray, a leader in the local NAACP chapter.
Folks is the first African American to hold the position of city manager, a powerful role in Anniston’s council-manager form of government.
“I’m not so historic,” Folks said Tuesday. “I just think it’s time to move on.”
The Folks appointment didn’t appear on meeting agendas the council sent out to the public over the weekend. Little expressed frustration when the matter came up for approval Tuesday, calling the agenda change “crapola” and saying it violated a prior council commitment to open a search for a new manager.
“Did we not say we were going to advertise the position?” Little asked.
Parliamentary procedure has been a touchy subject for council members in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a Jefferson County jury convicted Little on misdemeanor ethics charges for recklessly voting against a measure that could have led to a city-ordered cleanup of his own property.
Had the jury ruled that he cast the vote intentionally — the original, felony charge against him — he would have been disqualified from holding office and possibly could have faced more than a year in prison.
Instead, he remains on the council and faces a sentencing hearing in December.
Little’s four-day trial included hours of testimony about the rules of council meetings. The councilman in a press conference last week claimed Draper and two other witnesses lied on the witness stand, a charge those witnesses say isn’t true.
In comments at the close of the meeting, Little brought up that claim again.
“We had some good liars that took the stand,” the councilman said.
The mayor said he welcomed the idea of law enforcement looking at all the witnesses in the case.
“We can let a jury sort out who’s lying and who’s not lying,” Draper said.
Pet registration vote coming
The council Tuesday held its first reading of an amendment to city ordinance that would require registration of dogs and cats in the city. If the measure passes, people with spayed or neutered animals would have to pay $7 per year for a license tag, or $25 for a lifetime tag. People with unspayed pets would pay $30 per year, and wouldn’t be eligible for a lifetime license.
Councilwoman Millie Harris said the city needs the license fee to keep up with the growing cost of housing animals at the county shelter. She said the tags will also help animal control officers return pets to their owners.
“We’d actually be providing a service to the pet owners,” she said.
The first reading is typically a formality, signaling the council’s plan to vote on a matter its next meeting.