Anniston’s City Hall will relocate to the newly vacated offices of Consolidated Publishing, with a four-year lease that begins April 1, with four annual renewal dates during that time.
Members of the Anniston City Council Tuesday made the decision official with a 3-2 vote in favor of the lease, with David Reddick and Ben Little voting against, and Millie Harris, Jay Jenkins and Mayor Jack Draper voting in favor.
City Hall needs to relocate to make way for a federal courthouse downtown, which will be constructed on property where the present city government building sits on Gurnee Avenue. City Hall’s new home, at least for a while, will be at the publishing company’s 17-year-old office space on McClellan Boulevard, next to the city’s museum complex.
The vote was held partway through a tense City Council meeting that closed with Draper issuing a prayer for understanding.
“Unfortunately we’ve gotten to the point where every time we sit up here we talk about race,” Draper said just before a vote to adjourn. “Every issue does not have to be couched in those terms. I pray to God we can come together as a city. We have to seek his divine guidance as to how to move forward.”
Draper’s words came at the end of a meeting marked with strife. Serial commenter and Anniston resident Ralph Bradford returned for the third meeting in a row, this time speaking during both public and formal comment sessions. Bradford read an account of remarks made in 1956 at a professional meeting by former Anniston Star publisher Col. Harry M. Ayers; the language in those remarks would be regarded as racist today, and for that reason, Bradford said, Anniston’s black community does not support the City Hall move to the newspaper building. Ayers died in 1964.
During a vote on amendments to the 2019 operating budget, Harris asked for a vote to cut language boosting each council member’s travel budget from $5,000 to $6,500, arguing the current amount was enough for two conferences per year. Little said he thought his ward needs him to travel to have a chance at bringing in money for improvements.
“It is primarily to halt us from coming to the meetings,” Little said of Harris’ amendment, and referencing National League of Cities conferences and National Black Caucus meetings. “It’s plain and simple. I’m not talking racial, I’m just talking about what I’m talking about, the whites have more people traveling and doing things that are not looking at west Anniston and south Anniston.”
According to city documents from 2017 and 2019, however, Reddick and Little spent more on travel than their peers, and Little has been censured by the council in the past for going over his travel budget.
Reddick also spoke about the travel budget before a vote on Harris’ amendment.
“This is what I run into on a regular basis. Ward 1 and 4, and I don’t want to make it a racial issue, if something has to happen in 1 and 4 there’s no opposition. But then when it’s time for me to do something, it’s ‘Where are we going to get the money?’ So we go out and travel to find it.”
The vote on Harris’ amendment passed, with Reddick and Little voting against it, and Harris, Draper and Jenkins voting in favor. Jenkins said he sees the value in the travel budget, but believed the money could go somewhere else. Draper said he would like to see that money used to bring Anniston Youth Council members on more trips like one they took to a National League of Cities convention the week before.
Reddick noted a 240 percent increase in non-departmental funding on that same budget, which he said was an increase of $5 million. He asked Finance Director Cory Salley what non-departmental funding is, and Salley replied that it related to expenses, including a refund to Earthlink that the company had paid in sales taxes, totaling about $236,000, and another $138,000 on payment of a lease. Salley said the remaining $4 million in expenses was a reallocation of money into non-departmental spending.
Reddick took notice of the way that money had been applied.
“So at a time when money is important and we say don’t give the opportunity to go out and find money for our districts? Got it. Got it. Y’all see what’s going on? Am I the only one that sees this?”
Draper attempted to put Reddick back on the subject of the budget itself, and Reddick said he was being spoken over.
“We talked about this in diversity training and I wish our city manager would participate in that class,” Reddick said.
City Manager Jay Johnson said that he had participated.
“Was I talking to you?” asked Reddick.
Draper once more attempted to rein in the comment as both he and Reddick became heated briefly, before Reddick abruptly closed his comment.
During the meeting, the City Council also:
— Passed the previously mentioned amended budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
— Approved a license for concessions sales for an outdoor Knox Concert Series event on May 4 at Zinn park.