The frustration that undergirds an effort to deannex Ward 4 from the city of Anniston is understandable.
The problems of divisive politics, economic stagnation, a struggling school system and, yes, low property values are real.
It’s maddening to sit through or read about the antics that play out twice a month at the council meetings. But those problems are not unlike the problems that many cities face, and to flee them while taking on the persona of innocent victim is to dismiss an historical landscape that finds much of the blame for Anniston’s woes in Ward 4.
The seeds of potential separation in Ward 4 arguably began in the late ’60s and early ’70s when white, monied families bucked federal orders to integrate Anniston High by sending their children to private schools instead. Two decades later, black families who could afford it began doing the same thing.
What was left was an Anniston High School that continues to receive tax dollars from Ward 4, but, for the most part, is otherwise abandoned by those residents. Their current-day assessment of the school system is based on statistics and news reports, not school visits or interaction with the students, teachers and administrators.
What’s left after the middle class flight is a school system where students who face difficult inner-city challenges in their homes and their neighborhoods are also asked to carry the burden of lifting the school system’s test scores, graduation rates and, consequently, its image.
Now comes a handful of Ward 4 residents who want to extend that damage to include the city at large, all so their property values will go up a few thousand dollars.
So, in that frustration, they call up their friend, Sen. Del Marsh, who happens to be the most powerful man in the state Legislature, and essentially say: “We don’t like the property values where we live, so, instead of moving, we want you to rip this city in half and add us to the more affluent city to the south that doesn’t know we’re coming, and make our houses more valuable. Here’s the start of a bill, if you’d just introduce that for us. Thaaaanks.”
Anniston Councilman Ben Little described it as the “pinnacle of racism.” It’s not. It’s the pinnacle of privilege.
The rest of us don’t get to call up a friend and have them redraw the city limits of two cities because we can’t sell our house for as much as we’d like. The rest of us have to eat the loss, or, God forbid, work to make things better.
To add to the irony: How different would the property value be in Ward 4 today if the residents had not fought to keep Publix from coming to Golden Springs more than a decade ago. How many of those residents now shop at the Publix at The Exchange, sending that tax revenue to Oxford?
Yes, Ward 4, you (or your predecessors) bear some of the blame for conditions in Anniston.
Instead of further abandoning the school system, have you tried asking Principal Charles Gregory what you could do to help?
Instead of taking away from Anniston its primary source of residential property taxes, have you considered investing time and treasure in the people who live on the other side of town?
Instead of tearing the city in half, have you talked to Ward 3 residents about why they elected Little? Do you know whether there’s common ground to be found?
Yes, there are problems. But there are also solutions. Because they’re hard and will take time doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing.
This Editorial Board recommends the residents of Ward 4 stay put, roll up your sleeves and get to work. After all, who’s more equipped to take on the challenges that Anniston faces?