The hum of conversation filled the auditorium as the council and board of education members-elect took their seats on the stage preparing to take their oaths of office. Behind them a large banner read “One City, One Vision,” a credo that new Mayor Vaughn Stewart coined to emphasize unity.
Even before the ceremony began, residents were excitedly sharing their hopes for the city.
It’s a fresh start, said local resident Ray Bryan.
“You can’t help but sense a bit of the excitement,” Bryan said. “For the most part we have an entirely new council.”
Other people were reserving judgment.
Elmyra Jackson said she came to the ceremony because of her concern for the city, adding “we’ll have to wait and see” whether she likes the new team.
Once the ceremony started, however, Jackson expressed approval.
“Yes,” she called out in response to statements expressing the need for unity in the city.
The new council members took their oath of office in unison, their hands resting on Stewart’s family Bible. The board of education members followed suit when it was their turn to be sworn in.
It was a symbolic gesture of the unity the newly elected members have promised the voters, said Circuit Judge Malcolm Street, who administered the oaths to the two elected bodies.
The newly installed mayor echoed those sentiments as he spoke to the audience after the members took the oath.
“I have the sense that we’re going to work together beautifully,” Stewart said. “Your new council meetings will be the most boring events that ever happen.”
While the audience laughed at the quip, some of those in attendance said they were counting on the members to keep that promise.
Tiffani Davis, an Oxford resident and Anniston business owner, called the bickering of the former council members embarrassing.
“I hope that they can really become one city and one vision and have a united voice working together,” said Davis, who owns rental property in Anniston. “Even though I’m not a resident, it’s quite embarrassing reading the past experiences of the previous council.”
Marcus Boykin, a Ward 3 resident, agreed. The most important change the council members can make is to get things done, Boykin said.
“The last council, let’s be honest, there was a lot of back and forth, a lot of bickering, a lot of arguing,” Boykin said. “But there really wasn’t anything being accomplished.”
While the ceremony created a lot of what Councilman Jay Jenkins referred to as “warm and fuzzy” feelings, he said he thinks even after the feelings wear off, the council will work together well.
“We’re going to have our differences at some point,” said Jenkins, the lone incumbent to be re-elected. “What I do believe is that we’ll work through our differences in a professional and respectful way. I’m 100 percent convinced of that.”
New Ward 3 Councilman Seyram Selase was also optimistic.
“I think it’s more of a fire,” Selase said. “What a fire does, with the right amount of wind, it spreads.”
The residents, the council, the board all want the same thing — change, he said.
Anniston resident Catrece Verde is one of those residents demanding change. She came to the ceremony to see her children sing — the Cobb Elementary School and Anniston High School choirs performed — but she liked what Stewart had to say.
“We need some things here in Anniston,” Verde said. “Oxford is growing up and we’re not doing as much.”
Joyce French, who taught the mayor when he was a student at Anniston High School, said she’s hopeful the board and the council will be able to turn things around in Anniston. When she began teaching at Anniston High, the city was an All-America City.
“I was so proud,” French said.
She believes Anniston can achieve that again.
“I think we’re on the right track.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.