Don Hoyt puts in his final day of work at Anniston City Hall
by Paige Rentz
Aug 30, 2013 | 3250 views |  0 comments | 60 60 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston City Manager Don Hoyt is shown in his office Wednesday morning. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Anniston City Manager Don Hoyt is shown in his office Wednesday morning. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Although Don Hoyt occupied City Hall during a rocky period in Anniston’s history, when the city manager leaves the building today — his last on the job — he’ll do so confident he’s made his mark on the Model City.

Hoyt, who was hired by the previous City Council in 2009, led the city through a number of trying times and upheaval on the City Council, including the body’s inquiry into City Hall. Yet positive physical progress was also a hallmark of his tenure, as seen in the construction of new facilities for both public safety and public recreation.

As Hoyt wraps up four years as the Model City’s chief administrator, those who have worked with him praise his patience and calm demeanor during a turbulent time in Anniston’s local government. Frequent arguments and confrontations by elected officials in public forums caused some to wonder whether any progress was possible at all.

City Finance Director Danny McCullars said Hoyt has been a fair, kind and gentle manager.

Although Hoyt inherited a tough situation, McCullars said, “his personality, his calmness, allowed him to see his way through it, and for that I’ll always respect him.”

Councilman Jay Jenkins was appointed to the council in January 2012 and credits Hoyt with helping him get his bearings in local government.

“Obviously, when I got on there, there was a lot of turmoil; there was a lot of angst and no cooperation,” Jenkins said.

“I instantly felt like I could confide in him my concerns and my thought processes, and he would give me his best advice,” he said.

Hoyt said he won’t complain about the last City Council despite the “rag-tag” perception held by some in the public and the media. “I worked with them very well,” he said. “We got the job done.”

Even when a council winds up in deadlock or political paralysis, he said, “that’s the benefit of having a Council-Manager Act — the day-to-day operations are just going to rock along.”

Three big-ticket items built during Hoyt’s tenure — constructing the Justin Sollohub Justice Center, the Anniston Aquatic & Fitness Center, and the Department of Human Resources building on the site of a former factory — are among his proudest accomplishments, he said. The city, which Hoyt said hadn’t floated a bond in decades, had no rating from Standard & Poor’s before it secured an ‘Aa’ and floated three simultaneous bonds totaling $38 million to complete the projects.

Hoyt particularly pointed to the Justice Center, which greatly improved the working conditions for the city’s police employees, who had to deal with, among other problems, sewage leaking from the second floor of the old police station.

When Hoyt arrived at City Hall, he had to untangle what he called an “administrative catastrophe” involving the city’s Community Development Block Grant program, which included re-doing 22 major home rehabilitation projects at the city’s expense. The program now, he said, is in full compliance with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Other accomplishments Hoyt ticks off during his tenure: winning more than $6 million in grants over three years; drafting the city’s first known five-year capital improvement plan; coming into compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program, and making it through reapportionment of the city’s voting wards with no challenges from the Justice Department.

In addition, the city has updated building codes and has improved nuisance ordinances and enforcement, including the implementation of his mow-to-own program, in which the city negotiates lease agreements with residents willing to maintain abandoned property.

“If it’s a house worth improving, we can rehab it ... If it’s an empty lot, we can give it away,” he said. “That’s the strategy, and that way we’re not taking care of nobody’s property.”

Jenkins noted that he’s had the unique experience of working with Hoyt as a part of both councils — in two different environments while doing the same job, he said — but that Hoyt’s level demeanor never really changed.

When the new council came in, said Jenkins, members were amiable novices for whom Hoyt’s wealth of knowledge in municipal affairs proved to be a helpful framework.

Before he came to Anniston, Hoyt managed local governments in Chambers County and in Litchfield, Mich. In 1983, he joined the Planning Department with the city of West Monroe, La., where he stayed for 11 years before spending almost a decade teaching technical communication at Grambling State University.

Raised in New Orleans, Hoyt moved to his wife’s native northeastern Louisiana shortly after getting married. Once Hoyt wraps up his final day in City Hall, he said he and his wife, Charlotte, will spend about a week traveling and then return to Anniston to meet the movers. They will head back to West Monroe, where they have property and his daughter’s family lives.

Hoyt said he might try to find something new to occupy his time down the road, but for now he intends to take some time to see and enjoy his family, including his two teenaged grandsons.

“I’m going to have to take it easy for a while,” he said.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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