For myriad reasons, Anniston’s mistakes linger and its successes aren’t evenly shared. It didn’t get this way through wise planning and good fortune. It got this way through City Hall missteps, Monsanto’s evils, Pentagon abandonment, racial and class flight, fits of demagoguery and the terrible realities of industrial America.
Back in the day, Anniston’s power brokers bet the city’s economy on three things: pipe shops, textile mills and the Army. Two died. One left. Nothing of substance has replaced them.
So let’s hear three cheers for the deannexation talk that has roiled Anniston this summer.
Hip! Hip! Hurray!
Anniston needs this.
“As unfortunate as our situation is,” Councilman Jay Jenkins said at last week’s council meeting, “this is an opportunity for this community to come together, to understand the root of what drove this group to want to achieve this end and see if we can’t find positions that are productive ... for the city as a whole and not for an individual stance like this is.”
So, thanks to Forward 4 All, the secretive nonprofit whose members want the Alabama Legislature to orchestrate a land-swap with Oxford that would remove all of Anniston’s Ward 4, portions of a few other neighborhoods and nearly half of the city’s residents.
They’ve tired of Anniston’s ailments, both political and economic, and depressed property values, they say, and believe removing more than 9,000 residents and an entire ward from Anniston is the city’s, and their, only logical option.
That’s an awful idea, or worse, and Anniston’s City Council has unanimously passed a resolution condemning it. It’s self-serving, presumptive, undemocratic and, well, I’ll let Jenkins finish it.
“This act is cowardly and nothing short of that.”
But thanks, F4A. Seriously.
It’s time Annistonians talk to each other, with each other, not at each other.
It’s time we admit the obvious: status-quo or incremental changes aren’t going to transform the city’s economic or educational outlook.
It’s time we admit the obvious: There are two Annistons, a division largely defined by racial and geographic boundaries.
It’s time we admit the obvious: Anniston can’t claim its 21st-century potential without lessening the abject poverty that hampers much of the city and adversely affects everything it touches.
It’s also time we admit this: These issues existed before the current City Council’s election, before Forward 4 All’s ludicrous proposal, before the insane election results of 2008, even before the Army’s closure of Fort McClellan in 1999.
Anniston’s soul is split because white residents tired of Anniston City Schools’ performance and left — figuratively or literally; because a segment of Anniston’s black residents believes City Hall ignores their neighborhoods’ needs; because many white residents view councilmen David Reddick and Ben Little as hindrances, not helpers, to the greater good; and because nothing, or no one, has dissolved those deeply held emotions.
No economic development win has altered Anniston’s course. No mayor has proven to be the city’s savior.
That is what Jenkins is talking about when he said we must “understand the root of what drove this group to want to achieve this end,” and that we have to “find positions that are productive ... for the city as a whole and not for an individual stance like this is.”
Again, I’ll let Jenkins explain it.
“We do need to recognize that there are issues out there that drove the thought process that led to this,” he said last week, “and we need to address those issues as a community as a whole.”
But how? That’s modern Anniston’s dilemma, the virus it can’t shake.There’s poverty to lessen, public school performances to improve, violent crime rates to reduce, jobs to create, and civic hope and quality of life to cultivate. What’s the priority?
Splitting Anniston in half and shipping most of its higher-earning and white residents to Oxford isn’t a solution. It’s a cop-out, a way for a few to get what they want at the expense of others, not to mention a veritable death sentence to the city’s police and fire department pension fund.
Any Anniston blueprint must focus on Wards 2 and 3. That’s where the need is greatest. That’s where the poverty is most profound. The economic gap between Anniston’s low- and middle-income neighborhoods is so vast that Anniston’s future depends not on bringing more retail to Ward 4 — though, that would help — but on revitalizing the neighborhoods Forward 4 All members want to distance themselves from.
The alternative stinks, by the way. Two Annistons must become one Anniston, one way or another. “We’re foolish to think this is over,” Jenkins said, “just because we’re passing this resolution.”