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Time ticking on bill to ease hiring by Calhoun County government

Calhoun County License Commissioner Barry Robertson wants to make a change to the way county employees are hired, but he has only a few days to get his proposal through the Alabama State Legislature.

“We’re running out of time,” said Robertson, who runs the office that issues car tags and titles, hunting and fishing licenses and various other state certifications.

Robertson said he’s the author of a bill now in the Alabama State Senate that would make it easier for county officials such as himself to turn temporary employees into permanent hires. The bill, introduced by State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, on April 20, is the only piece of legislation filed this year that is specific to Calhoun County. 

Robertson said Calhoun County’s civil service rules put county offices under a crunch when the time comes to make new hires — particularly in times when unemployment is low and competition for workers fierce. 

To get a job with the county, a would-be employee typically takes a civil service test, Robertson said. Historically the top six scorers have their names forwarded to the county agency that is doing the hiring. But the test is given only periodically, and the list of top scorers is often out of date by the time Robertson gets it. 

“We call the people on the list,” Robertson said. “Often we don’t get them because it’s been a year since they took the test, and they moved on to something else.”

Robertson’s office typically has five full-time workers. Local law allows Robertson and other agency heads to hire temporary workers to help at times of year when business is heavier. Temporary workers don’t have to go through the civil service test, but don’t get all of the benefits that come with permanent employment. 

Robertson wants to change Calhoun County’s civil service law — applicable only in one county — to allow county officials to make a permanent hire of anyone who has worked for the county for at least a year, without the need to look at a civil service score. 

Earnest Woods, chairman of the Calhoun County Civil Service Board, said the board isn’t opposed to the bill.

“We support it because we know he needs employees,” Woods said. 

Woods said there are hiring problems across county agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office and the county engineer’s office, largely because of competition from private-sector employers. 

Even without significant opposition, the bill has to fight the clock. The Alabama Legislature meets for 30 days per year, typically at a rate of two or three days of deliberation per week. Bills typically take a few days of deliberation to work their way through both houses. 

Thursday was Day 27 of the session, and the bill has yet to come up for a vote by the full Senate.

“We might be able to get it through the Senate but it’ll be a push to get it out of the House,” Robertson said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.