You are the owner of this article.

Phillip Tutor: The virus that infects Anniston politics

Stedham leaving council chamber

Mayor Gene Stedham leaving the Anniston City Council chamber in 1997 after cancelling a contentious meeting with the public. (Trent Penny / The Anniston Star)

It hit me again Tuesday afternoon, along near 4:30, right about the time another Anniston City Council work session devolved into a brief brouhaha of shouts and threats.

This isn’t unusual.

Council unrest is Anniston’s norovirus, a constant affliction. It spreads and sickens. Council rosters matter little. Small-town politics are notoriously mean, but they’re different here, and they have been for a generation, at least. This council may be locked up by racially divided 3-2 votes, but it’s not unique. It’s just Anniston’s latest example.

From The Star in September 1995: 

“Emotions reached a fevered pitch on both sides, and (Anniston City Manager Tom) Wright supporters packed the room. Minutes after the agreement was reached, Police Chief Wayne Chandler passed a note to Mayor David Dethrage saying someone had just called the police department and threatened to kill Dethrage if the council got rid of Wright.

“‘This is the kind of crap I have to put up with,’ the mayor said, angrily waving the note.”

Shocking, right? But that “kind of crap,” and other types less dangerous, dominated the city’s tumultuous Dethrage years. The council — Dethrage and members James Montgomery, Chester Weeks, Jerre Ford and Hans Gray — argued over everything but the day of the week, so much so that its successor amended council meeting rules to help tamp down long-winded arguments. 

From January 1993: 

“For some council members, the honeymoon waned shortly after the election when they began squabbling over issues ranging from the city’s minority hiring policy to the location of a proposed wood-chipping facility.”

Yes, a wood-chipping facility.

Then, a month later:

“With a barrage of angry words, the Anniston City Council shot down Councilman James Montgomery’s proposal to relax the council’s policy on out-of-town travel and reimbursement.

“‘I think that the council is uncomfortable reimbursing expenses for attendance at minority functions,’ Montgomery said ...

“‘I’m so mad I’m seeing yellow,’ Ford said. ‘I’m not going to go to no executive session.’”

Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? When the current council censured Ward 3 rep Ben Little last year for again blowing through his travel allowance, it was merely a revival of a decades-long political fight in Anniston — as were the accusations of racial inequity regarding discipline and adherence to council spending guidelines.

Here’s something different from September 1984:

“‘You’ll have to ask them (the council) why they picked me the mayor,’ Mayor Gertrude Williams said. ‘Maybe it was just because I was retired and had the time ... to cut the ribbons and serve on the committees and all that. But I never felt they were interested in my opinions. They don’t ask me what I think. If you find the answer, then let me in on it.’”

A bit of background: Williams, the first woman elected to Anniston’s council, became mayor when Norwood Hodges resigned in 1980. Voters reinstalled her. And when she decided four years later not to seek re-election, she essentially accused the council’s male members of caveman politics. Noroviruses spread, remember. Two decades later, down in Oxford, Mayor Leon Smith insulted Councilwoman June Land Reaves by rudely calling her a “wonder house woman” who “thinks she knows everything” simply because they disagreed about a contract negotiation.

And this, from February 1997:

“The (Anniston City) Council abruptly canceled Tuesday’s meeting at (Mayor Gene) Stedham’s request following protests over recent school board changes ...

“‘This meeting will not continue on this basis,’ Stedham announced Tuesday before making a long trek to the door past television news camera crews and shouting residents.”

Anniston Mayor Jack Draper hasn’t played that card — yet. But Stedham’s decision to sternly close a meeting because of residents’ outbursts illustrates the historic bare-knuckleness of Anniston’s council gatherings. Makes you wonder what it would take for Draper, usually a calm soul, to say enough with the lack of decorum and personal attacks and send everyone home.  

Which brings us back to Tuesday’s work session and Little’s tiresome threat to “sue everyone.” 

Funny it was when Councilwoman Millie Harris, a frequent Little foil, turned to her right and asked, her voice raising to a Little-like level: “How many times have you sued, Mr. Little? I believe 12 times. How many have you won? … People are so tired of you. They’re ready for you to leave, Mr. Little.”

Not so funny was the fact that this latest brouhaha wasn’t unusual. Not here, not in Anniston. Our politics have long been this way.


Phillip Tutor — — is a Star columnist. Follow him at