“I’ve been here all my life, was born and bred here, came up in the school system,” said Ward 1 resident Kim Ware, an Anniston schoolteacher. “I saw it when it was thriving and it was great and I think it can be back that way again.”
Ware said she still isn’t sure who she’s voting for Aug. 28, but she loved what she heard from the candidates — working together, cooperation, supporting the whole community and school system. That’s what she believes will make Anniston great again, Ware said.
Four candidates from Ward 1 attended the forum. Donna Ross and Ernest Washington are vying for the Ward 1 Board of Education seat; incumbent Jim Klinefelter is not running for re-election because a new ward map excludes him from the district.
For the ward's City Council seat, Jay Jenkins is seeking re-election and Andy Hatley is hoping to unseat him.
All candidates favored similar ideals of working together, seeking common goals and mutual respect; the message resonated with the audience.
“Ward mentality that exists within our city is as divisive as anything that goes on here,” Jenkins responded to a question about how he might unify the city. “I also understand that I was elected to serve the entire city. If I refuse to serve anything but Ward 1, I might as well secede from the city and start our own city. It doesn’t work.”
Even as he made that statement, applause broke out from the audience.
Hatley said the city has to focus on common goals and open communication to overcome differences.
“If all the individuals in this room were to recognize a common vision, a common goal, it would be a lot easier to communicate wouldn’t it,” Hatley said.
The board of education candidates endorsed a team approach to leading the school system. Both Ross and Washington stressed the need for community support in getting students through high school.
“I think one thing we need to do is we need to give students some hope, hope that they’re going to get a job, a reason to stay in school” Ross said.
She suggested forming partnerships with businesses to create internships and recruiting mentors and volunteers to work with students.
Washington added that the city needed to give the school system more financial support.
“All schools need money,” Washington said.
He praised the council for passing the 1-cent sales tax and promising some of the funds to the school system.
But that penny tax was not applauded by all the candidates. The council candidates were asked how they would allocate the revenue from the tax.
“If there’s no way to rescind it, then we need to make sure we use that money very wisely,” Hatley said. The tax took away an advantage Anniston’s retailers had over the other communities that had already implemented their own 1-cent sales tax, Hatley said. He suggested using all the proceeds for economic development to increase revenue and then discontinue the tax.
Jenkins, who voted for the tax, reiterated his support for it.
“Take that money and use it just as the resolution requires, economic development, infrastructure and education,” Jenkins said. “The one thing I would point out in all of that is since April, the income that that’s generated is just right as it was projected…It has not changed shopping patterns in any way.”
Ray Harris has lived in Ward 1 for 41 years, he said. Harris came to see both the City Council candidates and board candidates so he could be an informed voter, he said. He was especially concerned with the state of the schools and blamed both the City Council and the Board of Education for the problems.
“My wife was an educator at Anniston High School for 31 years,” Harris said. “I think that school needs a lot of help. I don’t think the city has done their part as far as financing.”
The council candidates recognized the importance of education to the community.
“Our students, middle school, high school, they’re the ones that are really going to become our population,” Hatley said. “So, we need to make sure they graduate.”
He suggested adding vocational programs at the school.
Jenkins agreed. He noted that at the Ward 4 candidate forum July 19, after City Council candidates spoke, a large portion of the audience left — even though the Board of Education candidates had yet to make their cases.
“That tells us that we don’t find any investment in our school system,” Jenkins said. “We as a community have to decide that we are going to invest in our community (school) system.”
The next Anniston municipal candidate forum will be Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 5:30 p.m. at the City Meeting Center. Voters will hear candidates for mayor and for the at-large Board of Education seat. It is the final scheduled forum in the series.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.