Forward 4 All exists to advocate for positive change for the citizens of Anniston, through whatever approach best addresses several long-ignored issues perpetuated by our municipal government and elected school board.
These issues include:
A dysfunctional city hall
This is illustrated weekly through the unprofessional, childish behavior of our elected officials that leaves the City Council paralyzed and totally ineffective and negligent in carrying out the members’ sworn duties on behalf of the electorate.
1. Questionable stewardship of the public resources entrusted to it:
• A bloated bureaucracy that remains unadjusted in proportion to Anniston’s shrinking population and tax revenues.
• In a 2017 study of the 22 largest Alabama municipalities*, Anniston ranked No. 2 – second only to Birmingham – in municipal operations spending. Some items of note to consider: Anniston spent more per capita than any other city on public safety. For every resident of Anniston, the city spent $791 on public safety. For comparison, the median per capita expenditure was $481. Anniston also ranked No. 1 in spending on social and cultural functions at $332 per capita. The median was $178 per capita.
• As another point of comparison, in our neighboring state to the south, the Florida League of Municipalities published a study in 2015 of its average number of municipal employees by city size.** In cities with populations between 15,000 and 60,000, the ratio of city employees per resident was 1 to 110. In its 2020 budget, Anniston is funded at 1 employee for every 66 residents served. That’s 40 percent less efficient.
• The city’s 2018 audit report suggests an insolvent municipality. Anniston’s net position is -$43 million, and it cannot meet its statutorily required obligations. While we wait for the city to respond to Sen. Del Marsh’s recent letter requesting a current valuation of the public safety pension, understand that the 2018 actuarial valuation of the fund paints a bleak picture of ridiculous underfunding. Even more troubling, the city has not disclosed its insolvency to its residents.
2. Numerous ethics charges (recent and ongoing) of council members, several resulting in convictions.
3. City planning and zoning offices with an earned reputation for making it hard to do business or invest in new development within the city limits.
4. Appearances on the wrong end of every “best and worst places list.” From being dead last (111th) on the list of the best places for young families in Alabama (lendingtree.com) to first place on the list of most dangerous cities in the United States (alarms.com), the metrics of agony line up against the Model City.
5. A majority black city in which black leadership is underrepresented in city government, resulting in most decisions being viewed as racially biased, regardless of true intent. These undercurrents stifle cooperation on even the most basic elements of governance, much less on visionary efforts to propel the city forward for all its residents.
6. Special interests – both public and private – maintain the status quo at the cost of growth, improvements in race relations and our overall quality of life. Coupled with the racially charged atmosphere at City Hall, the inequitable behavior of the few have had a chilling effect on economic development, civic volunteerism and any other agency of beneficial change. Those who do step forward often must face personal assaults on their character, incumbrance in frivolous lawsuits and an ultimate lack of any positive return on their investment in time, money and fortitude.
Hostile and pejorative attacks on this citizen-led effort are but the latest examples of a long tyrannical history of “bit dog hollers” reactions by interests vested in the status quo.
An underperforming school system
The Anniston school system received an overall score of 74 out of a hundred (a “C”) for the 2018-19 school year, a lower score than in the previous year.
Worse, in 2017-18 (which is the most recent period for which numbers are available on the ASDE website), Anniston received more than $11,000 per student, ranking it 7th highest in the state. By comparison:
Anniston’s children are not getting the quality education they deserve — and should expect — with the resources allocated to the city.
1. The system’s 2017 audit report notes that its general fund has an almost $3 million deficit, when state law requires that it maintain a month’s operating expenses on deposit.
2. Property tax payers across all the wards who fund Anniston City Schools are also getting a negative return on their investment, both in the quality of education provided to our future workforce and in a loss of real value of their property – to a great extent due to the quality of our school system.
After decades of missed opportunities to address these and other problems, we believe that it is insane to keep going on the same path of trying to sustain a city established in the 19th century as a company town controlled by a vested few interests. We must break away from the “model” of the Model City – paternalistic, class-based and dependent on industries long since boarded shut.
The status quo is intolerable
Therefore, Forward 4 All advocates consideration be given by the Legislature and the citizenry to any or all of the following proposals – or a combination of them:
• A bill to call for a referendum on the question of whether to de-annex East Anniston, Golden Springs and McClellan, from which the City of McClellan would be formed.
• A bill to address the long-term performance problems of the Anniston City School System.
• A bill to make the Anniston City Council advisory and appoint a receiver to dissemble the bureaucracy, form a new, lean government that would be required to contract for all or almost all its services. (As illustrated by the Town of Pike Road in Montgomery County.)
• A bill to create a grassroots procedure for letting the residents of “New Anniston” (or “Satcher”) and “McClellan” decide how they want to govern themselves, with acknowledgement of the relationship they must maintain to service the portion of Anniston’s bond debt for which the ad valorem taxes of the proposed annexation area are pledged.
Charles Turner is spokesman for the nonprofit foundation, Foward 4 All.
* Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama
** No Alabama city staffing analyses could be readily found.