Anniston seeking new city attorney
by Paige Rentz
Anniston City Manager Don Hoyt plans to hire a new city attorney, an action he said is part of a movement for “change from the top” at City Hall.

Last week, Hoyt announced his intention to retire by the beginning of September, a recognition, he said, of the public’s cry for change during last fall’s elections.

“I felt like the folks out there wanted change from the top,” he said. “That included me and the city attorney.”

As part of this change, Hoyt notified the City Council on Feb. 11 of his decision to end the city’s relationship with Cleo Thomas, who had served as city attorney since 2009. The city put out requests for qualifications from prospective attorneys on Feb. 14. Hoyt added that Thomas was not an employee of the city and therefore was not fired. Instead, he billed the city for services rendered.

Attempts to reach Thomas on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Thomas, a longtime Anniston resident and Harvard Law School graduate, is a former member of the University of Alabama board of trustees, and in 1976 became that school’s first black president of the Student Government Association. He also was the first black member of the Anniston Country Club, joining in 1993.

Hoyt said his decision had nothing to do with Thomas’ performance. “Change at the top, that’s it,” he said. “New blood, new faces, new ideas — that’s what the public wants, and so that’s what we’re giving them.”

City Finance Director Danny McCullars said that the city has paid Thomas slightly less than $400,000 since February 2009, with the most recent fiscal year, which ended at the end of September 2012, coming in at about $91,000. During the 12-month period that included the 2010-11 City Council inquiry, Thomas’ pay spiked to $144,000.

Councilman Jay Jenkins emphasized the City Council has no role in appointing an attorney — it’s a decision that by law falls to the city manager.

But from his perspective as a councilman, Jenkins said, “We just need somebody sitting in that seat from a legal perspective to advise the council on the actions we’re preparing to take.”

Hoyt said that he is looking for the best attorney for the city, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an Anniston attorney.

“Local attorneys have a lot of knowledge about the community that can be very helpful, but they also have connections,” he said, and conflicts of interest that can be problematic. Hoyt said he will review all the responses to the city’s advertisement and interview a number, if not all, of the applicants in order to choose the best fit for the city government.

The city’s deadline for submissions is Feb. 22, and Hoyt said he hopes to have a new attorney in place in March.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
© 2013