The interviews, and the candidates, offered sharp contrasts. Council members at times sounded divided over choosing a candidate with a strong credentials or one with strong support from the community.
Richard Finn, a former city manager for Takoma Park, Md., has city management experience.
Roger Sawyer was production director for Consolidated Publishing Co. until November 2008. The company publishes The Star.
Councilman Ben Little has questioned how Sawyer came to be among the top four, saying he did not have city management experience. Mayor Gene Robinson and Councilman John Spain said Sawyer received an outpouring of support from the community.
Robinson led the interviews and gave Sawyer the opportunity to give a closing statement. He did not give Finn the opportunity for a closing statement, ending his interview after two hours to get ready for Sawyer's. Some of the questions for the men also differed.
The council has recently sought an attorney general's opinion on its council-manager act, which lays out how Anniston's government is structured. A 2000 amendment to that act says that the mayor is the city's chief executive. Some councilmen say that could cause conflicts between a mayor and a city manager.
Spain asked Finn if that would have an impact on his decision to take the city manager's job if the council offered it to him, and he said it would. He said he would need language in his employment agreement that would allow him to leave with a severance if the opinion says the mayor has powers that mimic those of a city manager.
Former Longwood, Fla., city manager John Drago, a candidate the council interviewed Thursday, also said such a ruling would make him have second thoughts about taking the job.
Spain did not ask Sawyer this question, which he later said was an oversight. Another question asked of one candidate and not the other centered on religion.
Robinson told Sawyer being a city manager is a tough job and said it would test him.
"How are you going to deal with being the city manager and being a Christian?" Robinson asked Sawyer.
This was not a question he asked Finn. Sawyer answered by talking about his faith in detail, saying it permeates everything he does.
Robinson did ask Sawyer how he would feel if the attorney general's opinion made him a "ceremonial" mayor.
"Would you blame me, if I am reduced to a ceremonial (mayor), if I became a strict parliamentarian?" Robinson asked.
Sawyer said he was familiar with Robert's Rules of Order for meetings, but encouraged Robinson to "find grace" in their dealings with other council members. Robinson also asked Sawyer if he would run for public office if he didn't get the city manager's job, another unique question. The next city elections are in 2012. Sawyer said he did not have any desire to run.
When a reporter attempted to ask Robinson questions about the interview process, Robinson asked for the questions to be sent via e-mail. He then turned and walked briskly to his office and locked the door.
Sawyer's faith also came up during Little's questioning. The councilman repeated his argument that the council was disregarding its own criteria by considering Sawyer when he has no city management experience.
"In the Christian arena, how fair is it we forget about the criteria put forth and have you evaluated outside that criteria," Little asked.
Sawyer said not having city management experience was the only criteria he didn't meet.
Sawyer also said he had been considered for the interim city manager's position, and that if he were qualified for that he should be qualified to take the job permanently. He said it was his understanding he would be judged on his interview and not his qualifications.
Spain later scolded Little for his question, saying he was attacking Sawyer's religious beliefs. "It's an absolute new low," Spain said. Afterward he said not considering Sawyer would be the equivalent of ignoring the wishes of the community.
Both interviews included similar questions asked of both candidates.
When asked about the city managers role in dealing with the city's chief of police, Sawyer recounted an incident where he called the Anniston police several times about loud music coming from a club near his home late at night. He said he called 50 times and nothing was done.
"The proactive stance is to know what's going on in the community," Sawyer said. He said police officers should focus more on crime than writing traffic tickets.
When asked what he would do to try and improve the city's school system, Sawyer talked about his decision to send his children to private school. He said he wanted them to have a "Biblical life and world view," and said he wished more people felt the same way. He said Superintendent Joan Frazier should be given more time to turn the school system around. He said he did not know what the city's responsibility to the school system was, but said he knew the city needs to help.
Sawyer emphasized his ability to bring people together as a skill necessary for being a good manager.
Sawyer admitted there were things about the job he did not know, but he said he was committed to learning them.
"I know you will not be disappointed if you put me in this position," Sawyer said.
The councilmen also discussed pay with the candidates. Sawyer said he would be willing to start at the low end of the city manager's salary range. Finn said although he is a finalist for another city manager's job in Marco Island, Fla., that pays more, he would consider taking the Anniston job. He said the high end of the pay scale here is equivalent of the low end of the pay scale at the other job city council has said it will pay the manger between $90,000 and $120,000.
Finn started his interview by pointing to his 25 years of city manager experience in four different communities. He recently took a short leave of absence to pursue a doctoral degree in public management.
He said he prefers working in small communities and helping council members form good policy.
On the question of working with the police chief, Finn said the chief reports to the city manager. As city manager in Takoma Park he focused on community policing.
When dealing with schools, Finn said he brought together the school system, the business community and the city together for a regular breakfast. It was part of a business recognition program.
"A lot of times we found out businesses were looking for employees with skills students in the vocational program had," Finn said.
Councilmen said they were impressed with Finn's resume.
After the interviews Spain said the council might consider filling the job as early as Tuesday.