An effort by a handful of east Anniston residents threatens to dismantle the city as we know it. But the release of two significant reports could drain the remaining energy from the initiative, or it could refuel the drive to make it happen.
Forward 4 All is a nonprofit organization formed earlier this year by five residents who are asking Sen. Del Marsh to shepherd through the Legislature a bill that would deannex all of Ward 4 and parts of Wards 1 and 3 from the city of Anniston and into the city of Oxford.
The motivation, they say, is primarily to boost their low property values, which they believe is the result of having an Anniston address. Rather than move to another city, they’ve concocted this plan that would doom the city to economic ruin.
Aside from destroying the boundaries of the city and robbing Anniston of its most affluent neighborhoods, the consequences could include bankrupting the city’s pension fund for fire and police.
The question is, other than the organizers of Forward 4 All, who’s behind this move? More specifically, how many Ward 4 residents are actually in agreement with deannexation? Does Forward for All truly have its finger on the pulse of Ward 4? The Anniston Star commissioned Jacksonville State University to conduct a survey seeking to answer that very question. The deadline to complete the survey was last Tuesday, and the results are expected to be available soon.
If the survey shows a strong contingency favoring deannexation, it could give Marsh the go-ahead to move forward with the bill. If it shows a decisive lack of grassroots support for deannexation, the survey results could kill the effort before it goes any further.
Additionally, Anniston Board of Education President Robert Houston announced during a meeting Thursday that the school system’s 2018-2019 test scores are in; they were released on Friday morning.
Anniston’s grade is a C, the same as it was a year ago.
The school system’s grade matters because much of the blame for wanting to leave Anniston has been placed on divisive city governance, a lack of economic development and an underperforming school system. Forward 4 All members say those factors combine to bring down property values. The assessment of the school, however, is largely based on perception and reputation rather than fact. Anniston scored a C last year, and no other school in the county was above a B.
For those who support the school system, the C grade is proof that the school system is performing right in the mix with the area’s other schools and shouldn’t be blamed for the city’s woes. For those who buy into the perception that the system is bad, the C grade is confirmation that the system is failing its students.
In a meeting on Thursday, school board President Robert Houston strongly rebuked the Forward 4 All effort to deannex the mostly-white Ward 4 as a racist attack on the city, comparable to the beating of marchers in Selma and the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston.
“Alabama has a dreadful history of human rights abuses that has not gone unnoticed,” Houston was quoted by The Star’s Tim Lockette as saying.
A resident-led movement called Save Our City has started circulating a petition seeking the signatures of residents opposed to any deannexation. They hope to present it to Marsh as a demonstration of the people’s negative sentiments toward the Forward 4 All effort.
And, if the survey and the test scores and the petition don’t kill the initiative, Rep. Barbara Boyd has expressed her opposition to deannexation.
“It can be stopped in the House and it can be stopped in the Senate,” she said at Thursday’s school board meeting. She declared that if anyone introduces such a bill, it won’t pass.
Thank you, Dr. Boyd, for standing up for Anniston.
You might be the city’s last line of defense.