Anniston owns a strategic plan, a crowd-sourced, grassroots effort that mined the best ideas for the city’s future from the minds of Annistonians themselves.
“One City One Vision,” it’s called.
I’ll rephrase the question.
When’s the last time you heard anyone mention it?
It’s been a while, I assume. The city’s website still features a link to that 51-page document, but the “One City One Vision” strategic plan today is essentially a forgotten relic of the Stewart City Hall. Not discarded, just forgotten.
Former Mayor Vaughn Stewart made the “One City One Vision” catchphrase a cornerstone of his wildly successful election campaign and his single term. A “One City One Vision” banner hung above the stage in November 2012 when Stewart and council members were sworn in.
City Hall embarked early the following year on a ward-by-ward listening tour designed to restore Annistonians’ trust in a mayor’s office blown asunder during the awfulness that was Gene Robinson’s volatile tenure.
A “One City One Vision” banner hung over the entrance to City Hall. Fifty-five boldfaced names comprised a “One City One Vision” steering committee. Annistonians answered surveys and attended community meetings in droves, all designed to guide the writers of what became this supposedly defining document.
The final report went public in April 2014. Stewart and councilors Jay Jenkins, Seyram Selase, Millie Harris and David Reddick signed a resolution that summer saying the council “adopts for implementation the One City One Vision Strategic Plan in its entirety.”
Never mind that it’s impossible for a city of 20,000-plus people to share a single, collective vision. Stewart’s ambitious idea was codified in city resolution 14-R-171.
“There’s nothing wrong with this document,” Toby Bennington, Anniston’s director of economic development and city planning, said Friday. “This document could be revisited.”
Question is, should it?
Consider what’s happening.
A self-serving nonprofit, Forward 4 All, this summer has sought the assistance of state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, for an evil deannexation land swap that would force Oxford to absorb Anniston’s Ward 4 and nearly 10,000 residents.
Today’s Anniston is essentially 2014’s Anniston, only with a different mayor, Ward 3 representative and city manager. The population hasn’t increased. Its redevelopment areas — Noble Street, McClellan, South Quintard, Lenlock — remain in varying stages of incompletion. Poverty plagues too many neighborhoods. Cycling, mountain biking and ecotourism still drive much of the city’s positive outward image.
Stewart’s “One City One Vision” strategic plan was essentially stored in a closet when he decided one term was enough. Its elected champion was gone. His successor, Jack Draper, entered office with stated intentions to support the plan, but things have gotten in the way: negotiations over a new regional federal courthouse, a move of City Hall offices, even the return of Ben Little to the council.
At least the plan still lives on the city’s website. Not discarded, just forgotten.
“Mayor Stewart announced he wasn’t going to seek re-election, and it was a wind-down for a lack of a better phrase,” Bennington said. “The interest was still there from the community, but there was just a winding and slowing down, and then we got into a campaign season ... That’s just the decisions of elected officials.”
With Stewart absent, Bennington may be the plan’s top cheerleader at City Hall. And, no, that optimism isn’t universal. “That plan,” Little told me by email, “was not a plan to help Anniston. If they wanted it to work, that council would have put funds with it.”
Nevertheless, Bennington largely considers “One City One Vision” a success and believes the process worked: Six years ago, Annistonians gathered, talked, debated and offered their thoughts on what realistic improvements the city needed. The report, Bennington said, proves that. On that, he’s right.
Zoning ordinances, a huge complaint, were improved. Beautification efforts happened. City Hall even tried to better its frosty communications with that version of the Anniston Board of Education.
But the report’s myriad other recommendations? The goals of better educational opportunities, smarter leadership, prosperous business opportunities for all and safer communities?
Failure is a label too harsh. I wouldn’t use it, though others may. At the least, “One City One Vision” is a missed opportunity for Anniston — not because of the plan itself, but because of the civic involvement Stewart’s effort created. Annistonians showed they care about this place, about its future, and their buy-in hasn’t reaped widespread results.
“How do I weigh the overall implementation?” Bennington asked. “That it was not as successful for various reasons.”
People mocked the notion of “One City One Vision” because Anniston isn’t, and has never been, one city with a sole vision. It’s impossible and unrealistic. If anything, the enduring value of Stewart’s overly optimistic idea is that it brought out a strong core of Annistonians, black and white, young and old, who see potential amid others’ negativity.
If we’re going to revise “One City One Vision,” let’s revise that.