Now that Anniston City Councilman Ben Little has been indicted by a Calhoun County grand jury, turned himself in to the Calhoun County Jail, released on his own recognizance and given an arraignment date, Little’s political epitaph is certain. Or so it seems.
Little certainly has his supporters -- more than most people realize. But there’s also a sizeable part of Anniston that considers the councilman’s latest legal troubles the wedge that finally will drive him away from Gurnee Avenue. Whether that’s backed by fact or mere wishes doesn’t really matter.
These discussions, frankly, are premature. And unconstructive. And unfair.
Say whatever you want about Ben Little, but you can’t say he’s guilty of the ethics charges he faces. It’s not your call, or mine. There’s been no trial, no deliberations, no judgment, no sentencing. Today, Little is a duly elected councilman who has been indicted but issued no legal verdict. And Little deserves the same level of judicial fairness as anyone else. Let the court do its job.
I’ll be blunt: Trying him on Facebook only inflames the racial tensions that permeate so much of Anniston’s governance -- flames that Little himself so often ignites. Little frames his political career as the sole defender of the city’s black residents, but his bull-in-a-china-shop approach destroys any good will others may have to join hands with him. He wants to be the savior of Anniston’s minority neighborhoods, but the opportunities he wastes to create a biracial coalition of Annistonians willing to sweat for the city’s western and southern neighborhoods are remarkable. And sad.
If Annistonians want to obsess about something, obsess about that.
I’ve long thought Anniston’s biggest need was an improved system of public schools, and for good reason. But that’s no longer true. Anniston’s most urgent need are black politicians who can provide this city with elected leaders who move the city forward without using race as a sledgehammer against anything and anyone that comes before them. There is racism in Anniston, but it doesn’t ooze from every corner.
Neither Little nor Councilman David Reddick is that candidate. The proof resonates. Like the self-styled judges who have tried him on social media, Little this week has lobbed unfounded accusations of illegalities, racism and legal vendettas on Facebook into the city’s center, especially with his white colleagues on the council.
An example: “If you think city hall is something, you should see how they are lynching our black kids in the county courthouse.”
And another: “The reason Anniston is not succeeding is because of the 3 people on (the) council that holds (sic) the majority votes. I’ve been trying to build up the black communities but get voted down yet the(y) can waste thousands of taxpayers dollars on things they like for example a bike trail.”
And another: “I know a lot of blacked owned (sic) businesses that could use money for their business but the council will make sure that doesn’t happen. They only look out for their inner circle.”
That’s serious stuff. Lynchings in the courthouse, overt, rampant racism on the council, race-fueled mistakes with city funds -- if true, which it’s not. But those are perfect examples of Little’s misunderstanding of effective political leadership.
Sledgehammers rarely work. Whether in big-ol’ Washington or tiny Anniston, effective political leadership blossoms when diverse people -- conservatives and liberals, blacks and whites, evangelicals and the unchurched, the old and the young -- compromise and negotiate and listen. Little’s default is to pull out a sledgehammer whenever there are differing opinions or decisions made that bother him.
The reason no one wants to work with him isn’t because he’s black. It’s because they’re tired of that sledgehammer.
Here’s another missed opportunity. I’ve long thought Little was correct to fight for low-income residents who lived in homes with leaky roofs and unsafe porches. There are programs that provide assistance, but they’re not enough. I refuse to believe that a Ward 3 representative who prefers professionalism over divisiveness wouldn’t get unanimous support for an enhanced effort to help the poor and elderly with their dilapidated homes. But who wants to work with Little? Who wants to put up with his verbal abuse, his emails, his turmoil? No one.
An Anniston without effective biracial guidance will fail. Don’t get lost in the weeds about Little’s latest round of legal woes. The real issue is ineffective and damaging leadership from a longtime councilman. He could have been a part of Anniston’s unfulfilled resurgence, especially in the city’s west and south sides. He’s squandering that opportunity.