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Annexit backers now divided on deannexation proposal

Anniston City Limits (copy)

Members of Forward 4 All, the group previously in favor of the deannexation of Anniston's Council Ward 4, are now divided on the topic.

Leaders of a push to deannex Anniston’s Council Ward 4 appear to be backing away from that goal, following a series of emotional public meetings in which most speakers said they wanted to keep the Model City intact.

Charles Turner, a leader and spokesman of the group Forward 4 All, said the group is no longer unified in its support of a plan to take Ward 4 out of the city.

“I don’t think the board is all of one mind,” Turner said. “I think some favor deannexation as the first option, and some want Anniston to remain intact.”

State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, never endorsed that bill, but he did say that he’d been in talks with the group and that legislative staff were researching the proposal. 

Anniston City Council members unanimously opposed the deannexation plan, saying the departure of Ward 4 taxpayers would crash the city’s police and firefighter pension plan. Oxford city officials said they didn’t want the extra land and hadn’t asked for it. Other critics, noting that Ward 4 is a majority-white quarter of a majority black city, said racism was behind the proposal. 

Turner and other deannexation supporters said they wanted to leave the city because of stagnant home prices, which they blamed in part on the state of the city’s schools. 

At a pair of public meetings on the proposal last week, deannexation opponents outnumbered Forward 4 All supporters. Some speakers referred to the group as a “gang of five,” saying that support for deannexation doesn’t extend far beyond the original organizers of the Forward 4 All group.

Turner on Monday said the group had actually cooled on deannexation as the only solution months ago. He said some members prefer a change to the city’s public schools — possibly through a voucher program that lets parents opt out of Anniston schools. 

Asked about his own preference, Turner said “It’s too crazy to tell.”

Turner said he’d like to see a new form of city government that gives all four wards more control over their affairs while retaining them under a single City Council. 

“That’s too complicated, and it’s not likely to get any traction,” he said.

Attempts to reach Forward 4 All members Alison Landers and Dee Gorey Monday were unsuccessful. Another member of the group, Glen Ray, said he’s still for deannexation.

“Anniston keeps shortchanging the black community,” Ray said. 

The president of the local NAACP, Ray has argued that a split would allow Anniston’s black majority to exert more influence over city politics. In past public meetings, Ray seemed to back away from that sentiment, arguing that the city’s residents should “move forward in this city, united, as one, Annistonians.” On Monday Ray said he’s still in favor of the split. 

The Alabama Legislature convenes Tuesday, and there’s no sign of an Anniston deannexation proposal among the 100-plus bills already filed for consideration. 

Ward 4 Councilwoman Millie Harris said the push for deannexation seemed to have weakened after last week’s public meetings. 

“I don’t think they’re bad people,” she said of deannexation proponents. “I don’t think they’re selfish. I think they’re just frustrated.”

All five members of the City Council voted to express their opposition to the proposal last year. One of the most vocal opponents of deannexation, Ward 3 Councilman Ben Little, has urged the council to take legal action to block the proposal. The council discussed the matter at a work session Tuesday, but took no action. 

Harris said there’s no need to take legal action yet. 

“I don’t see where the lawyers would have anything to do, because there’s been no action taken,” Harris said.

Little said he doesn’t trust deannexation supporters to stay away from the issue.

“In times of peace, you prepare for war,” he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.