Jay Jenkins’ passion for Anniston is evident in his voice when he talks about the city, but he didn’t always feel that way.
“I spent the bulk of my adolescent years trying to figure out how to get out of this town,” Jenkins said. “It didn’t take long being removed to understand the charm of this place.”
He spent four years at Auburn University and then three years working in Denver before coming back home. Now an appointed member of the Anniston City Council, Jenkins is seeking election to the post so he can continue the work he has started.
The city’s greatest asset, Jenkins said, is its potential for growth, but that is hampered by one of its biggest problems — education. So the best way for him to help the city through the council is by supporting the school system, he said.
Jenkins has had years of experience working in planning and development in the city. A resident of McClellan, he is keenly interested in its development.
As an architect, Jenkins said that he has given up his biggest customer — the city of Anniston — in order to serve. He does have two existing projects with the city. Jenkins said he checked with the state Ethics Commission before seeking an appointment to the City Council; he said he was not allowed to represent his company about any changes to the contract on the projects or to vote on any changes to the contracts. He has honored those limitations, Jenkins said.
Andy Hatley, 66, decided to run for the City Council because he felt the city couldn’t go another four years without a change in leadership.
Hatley has served terms on both the council and the Anniston Board of Education. He would like to bring together voices from across the community to create a vision and a plan to get there. He said his local government experience would allow him to bring people together and help formulate that vision.
Every facet of Anniston has to be involved to be sure the whole city is represented and on board with the plan, Hatley said.
Hatley said divisive “ward mentality” is a problem in the city. The ward system should be a framework for communication with residents, he said. Once that communication happens, Hatley said, that input has to be considered with input with other council members to make decisions for the good of the entire city.
Hatley has lived in Anniston since 1989. He said he stayed because he loves the area and its people.
Like many residents he has seen Anniston change from a growing to a shrinking community. He believes the problem can be reversed by supporting the school system.
“Education will help us bring young people back to Anniston,” Hatley said. “It’ll keep young families from leaving when they’re kids reach school age and the more people, the better equipped you are for economic development and increasing your tax base.”
Sheffton Goodson, 25, is a lifelong resident of Anniston, leaving only long enough to attend the University of Alabama.
That absence though was long enough for him to recognize the need for solid leadership in the city. The community is stagnating with home vacancies up, jobs down and stagnant salaries, it was clear to him that something has to change, Goodson said.
Goodson said he believes that divisiveness in the community is holding Anniston back. The city is broken up into wards not so that each ward can “fight for its share,” Goodson said, but for voting purposes. The community needs to become more unified to move forward.
The city needs to improve its education system, reduce crime and bring in more jobs for its residents.
As councilman, Goodson said, he would implement community-based youth programs in his ward and spread them to the entire community. For instance, he would work to create reward programs through local businesses for student achievements. This would allow the businesses to get involved in education in the community, Goodson said.
As one of the younger candidates, Goodson said, his voice is one that is missing in city policy. Young people — ages 21 to 35 — need to be more involved in leading the city into the future, he said.
“If I’m going to be here, then I want to make an impact,” Goodson said.
Herbert Palmore, 65, has lived in Anniston on and off his whole life. A retired military and state police officer, he occasionally moved for work, but returned to the city to retire because he’s always thought of Anniston as his home.
Palmore is running for his fourth term on the council, he said, to continue the work he has started there. Palmore said he has been interested in improving the Anniston City Schools throughout his elected career, and is now hoping to complete a transfer of the site of Anniston Middle School to the city so it can be redeveloped.
Palmore said he recognizes that the city needs to communicate more with residents. There needs to be a better relationship between residents and Anniston police, as well as between residents and the council, he said.
His experience gives him an advantage in accomplishing those goals, Palmore said.
“I would let my work speak for me,” Palmore said.
David Reddick, 34, said he believes residents of Anniston deserve strong, smart leadership, and he can deliver that.
“We need somebody that can stand up for the people, make intelligent decisions that will bring job growth and business opportunity to the city,” Reddick said. “I want the city to reach its full potential.”
Reddick was born in Anniston and returned home after retiring from the Navy due to injury. Since returning, Reddick has been involved with numerous boards and the NAACP where he has served as president. Through that work, he has learned to listen to people and their problems and negotiate solutions, he said. It’s a skill he thinks would serve him well as city councilman.
“As a member of the NAACP I was able to advocate for many people,” Reddick said. “Nine times out of 10 (we were) able to resolve the problem just simply by the proper form of communication.”
Through his work in the sales and the tourism industry, Reddick said, he learned how to market and present products in their best light. He can do the same for Anniston, he said. His goal is growth for Anniston, both internally and externally.
“We have people that are willing and able to work. We have reasonably priced land. We have beautiful properties,” Reddick said. “We just have to show bigger business how it would benefit them to come to Anniston, but we also have to educate the small businesses so that more people will be inspired to start small businesses.”
Reddick said he is a man of his convictions and he will make decisions based on the well-being of the entire city.
Ben Little, 55, has been a member of the Anniston City Council since 2000. Over his most recent term in office, he has become one of the council’s most-debated figures, leading an inquiry into alleged corruption in city government and facing a lawsuit from police officers who claim the inquiry was a form of harassment.
A South Carolina native, Little retired from the Army in 1995 and chose to live in Anniston, where he had served at Fort McClellan. He is pastor of Refuge Full Gospel Methodist Church in Anniston.
When contacted by The Star, Little said he is running for the same reasons he ran 12 years ago but declined to comment further. He didn’t attend a July 26 forum for Ward 3 candidates.
Earlier this year, in an interview for a profile in The Star, Little cited the large number of work orders completed in Ward 3 as a sign of how hard he works for his constituents. About 40 percent of the work orders completed in the city are in Little’s ward.
“That shows I am there, doing the work I need to be doing to take care of the people who put me into office,” he told Star reporter Cameron Steele in March.
Seyram Selase, 28, left the area for eight years to attend college and serve out a fellowship. He was surprised to see the changes in Anniston when he returned.
Since he’s been back, he’s volunteered for various efforts, he said, but he felt he should do more. When he was in college, a professor had told him that the reason that cities like Atlanta and Dallas are thriving are because the people who were raised there give back to the city and try to make it better.
“I want to give back to the place that gave to me,” Selase said. “That’s my obligation.”
One of the best ways he can do that, he said, is to try to improve the leadership in the city, which Selase feels is lacking. The biggest issue holding Anniston back, Selase said, is its leadership not being able to work together.
Selase said he would change that by bringing a more cooperative and polite spirit to the City Council and fostering that spirit throughout the city by with community-wide functions. The goal of the functions would be to bring people together from across the city to get to know each other and to work together, he said.
His first priority is improving the city school system. As a councilman, one of the best ways he could accomplish that is through more financial support and by creating a more congenial relationship between the council and the board members, he said.
“I believe crime in our neighborhoods is a direct result of our education system and not having enough jobs,” Selase said.
Through his experience on city boards and his education in technology and industrial management, Selase believes he would be able to help foster development at McClellan.
Marcus Dunn , 51, was born in Anniston and raised in Los Angeles.
When it came time to settle and raise a family 23 years ago, he came back to Anniston for its friendly, small-town atmosphere. But, he said, he learned to love the perseverance of Annistonians. The city made it through the 1960s civil rights movement, polychlorinated biphenyl contamination and the closing of Fort McClellan and has thrived, Dunn said. So, he’s proud to call himself Annistonian, he said.
The pastor of Kingdom Place Ministries in Lenlock and owner of a small business, Dunn was appointed to the Ward 4 seat earlier this year, after Councilman David Dawson resigned.
Anniston has been hurt in the past several years, Dunn said.
The city has been unable to “get a group of people willing to put aside their differences and work for one cause,” Dunn said, which has tarnished Anniston’s image as the Model City.
“That’s my first goal is to bring back the positive image of our city,” Dunn said.
His second is to support the school system in the community through funding and creating vocational education opportunities.
Arthur Fite, 67, has worked as a lawyer in Anniston for more than 40 years. He established a Kia dealership in Anniston which currently employs 30 people, according to his campaign materials. Raised in Jasper, Fite came to Anniston to test the waters, figuring he’d stay for two or three years, he said. That turned into 40, when he grew to love the city.
He’s been actively engaged in politics for some time, helping other people with their campaigns, but this is the first time he’s run for office. But he thought it was time because of the city’s downward trend, Fite said.
“The solution,” Fite said, “is so obvious, I don’t understand why nobody sees it.”
McClellan is the city’s gold mine and it has to be tapped, he said. The city has the means with the newly approved and implemented 1 cent sales tax, Fite said.
Fite has served on the Alabama Board of Bar Commissioners, the board of directors of Regional Medical Center and the board of directors for the Knox Concert Series, and has been chairman of the YMCA of Calhoun County.
Fite’s campaign has focused on working with the McClellan Development Authority to develop McClellan, enhancing vocational education at Anniston High School, simplifying business licensing processes and limiting council members’ travel budget.
The city’s decline can be reversed, Fite said.
“Everybody blames the school system,” Fite said. “But the city has to offer folks jobs.”
At 26, Brian Harmon believes he is in a unique position among his challengers to address the challenge Anniston is having in keeping young adults in the city.
People his age are in the process of deciding where to set down roots, he said, and they evaluate towns based on their opportunities there, the schools and the quality of life.
“I think Anniston won’t succeed if people my age are leaving the city and right now they are,” Harmon said.
To keep his generation here, the city needs to focus less on bringing jobs and more on creating stable career paths within the city, Harmon said. If he’s looking at his opportunities, he said, he’s not looking at the number of hourly jobs, but his ability to move up in his career path. Harmon would focus on entrepreneurship, and promoting small and mid-sized businesses in areas that are already here such as ecotourism and biking.
In addition, Harmon wants to see more culture in the city. The Knox Concert Series is a good start, but the city needs more to attract and retain young business people to the city, Harmon said.
Millie Harris, 61, says she learned to fight injustice early.
Her father, an education administrator, spoke out about the injustices of his time, even at the detriment of his livelihood.
“He was fired about every other year,” Harris said. “He was ahead of his time.”
As a consequence, her family moved around a lot. She learned that standing up for what she believed was one of the most important things she could do.
So, she has spent her life doing community work, but sat on the sidelines of the political arena, watching as Anniston went downhill, she said.
“I just kept saying, ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’ ” Harris said. “Then it hit me, I can do something.”
So, she decided to run for City Council to help correct some of the issues she believes are holding the city back. Education is the biggest problem facing Anniston and it contributes to other problems that plague the city including economic development and crime, Harris said.
Harris, a former educator, would support the board of education, but would like to see some innovative proposals to improve the school system, including vocational education, she said. She would like to support development at McClellan to provide jobs for those students as they graduate from the high school. She also believes the redevelopment of the Anniston Middle School site as a retail center is important to the city.
Joel Russell has been interested in Anniston government for a long time, but life has always pulled him in other directions.
This year, when campaign season rolled around, he said he realized this was his year to run for election. He chose to run for the City Council because he felt that was where he could most impact the community and make a difference.
“The way it’s headed, all the kids are moving out because there’s no jobs,” Russell said.
Russell, 54, is very concerned with the economy and quality of life in Anniston, because those are the things that keep people in their hometown. He has a wish list of things he’d like to see happen in Anniston — a bustling downtown, growth at McClellan, a thriving school system supported by the entire community, racial harmony. But he realizes that he can’t make that happen overnight or do it on his own.
“It’s going to take more than the City Council to bring this around,” Russell said. “It’s going to take everybody in a concerted effort.”
But he thinks the community is ready to move forward.
Council infighting has helped push business away, Russell said. He would like to create a council that would work together and focus on creating opportunity in the city.
Russell said he would work with business owners to have workshops for high school students to give them an idea what particular jobs would be like. He would like to help the school system create more vocational opportunities for its students. He would also work to create partnerships with the local colleges to create youth programs for Anniston’s children.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.