The definition of power: The mayor's role in Anniston
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jul 15, 2009 | 1575 views |  2 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson says his clarified role as chief executive of city government doesn't give him additional power; it only gives him more work. "And this city needs a tremendous amount of work," he told The Star.

Yet, the city's first-year mayor says he will be more involved in decisions about the city's finances and the planning of its short- and long-range future. What's more, he'll assume more responsibility for the use of city resources.

Apparently, defining the word "power" depends on who's doing the defining.

The state attorney general's opinion released Monday concerning a 2000 legislative amendment on the city's form of government is not something Annistonians should cheer. The ruling, which says the mayor shares executive powers with the city manager, only blurs the lines of critical administrative responsibilities within City Hall.

Instead of reaffirming roles, the ruling creates gray areas of interpretation. Instead of ensuring that Anniston's city manager can readily, and without needless hassle, tackle the job's expansive list of responsibilities, it creates an unwanted question: Who's job is it to do certain critical tasks? The CEO-style mayor? Or the city manager?

Even worse is that instead of making it easier for this dysfunctional council-mayor relationship to improve, it throws propane onto an already simmering fire.

Don't believe that? Councilman Ben Little, no fan of Robinson accepting any additional duties, fired this shot across City Hall hallways when he told The Star: "When your ego is larger than the knowledge and the capability you've got, it's a major problem."

Councilman John Spain told The Star that this "hybrid" form of council-manager government takes the best traits from the strong-mayor and weak-mayor formats, "much like a private company" with a CEO and a chief operating officer. That's a faulty premise, since private companies are not municipalities — and, as such, are subject to a wholly different set of standards, procedures and federal laws.

This editorial board reaffirms its stance that Anniston does not need a mayor who wields CEO-style power and remains a voting member of the City Council. That mixture of the legislative and executive branches of city government is not a proper working model.

Perhaps the wisest words about this scenario come from former Mayor Chip Howell, who has reminded us that the council must let the city manager do his job. (Howell, in office eight years, did not assume any additional power from the 2000 amendment.) What's more, he called the CEO title a "hollow" label, and urged the council to understand what powers the amendment did not grant.

Wise words, indeed. Problem is, this council — divided irreparably — seems incapable of working for the common good and arriving at that sort of consensus.

Robinson wanted to be mayor, ran twice, won the election on his second try, and carries even more clout today than he did when he was sworn in. If something goes wrong in Anniston, there's no doubt now as to whom we should call.
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The definition of power: The mayor's role in Anniston by The Anniston Star Editorial Board

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