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City leaders optimistic at Ward 3 meeting

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Folks Tan

Anniston City Manager Steven Folks speaks at a Ward 3 residents' meeting Thursday.

Good things are happening in Anniston, according to city leaders who spoke Thursday evening at a community meeting for Ward 3 residents.

“What are we going to do together to make this city better?” said Anniston City Manager Steven Folks, who led the meeting. “That’s the conversation I’m trying to have.”

Folks said the meeting in Ward 3, held at the South Highland Community Center, was one of four planned in each council ward.

After those meetings, Folks said, he hopes to hold quarterly meetings with everyone in Anniston. He said the schedule for those meetings had not yet been set.

Sonny McMahand, the director of the Anniston Housing Authority, said there is a delay in redevelopment plans at Barber Terrace. While the site is not on any historic registry, McMahand said, the Barber Memorial Seminary, a school for black women, once stood there.

“There’s a couple of artifacts still there. We’re trying to figure out how to get them memorialized in some kind of way, so that when we build that site back … we want to see if we can preserve them,” McMahand said.

 City planner Toby Bennington said he is confident the city will see more economic growth in the city in 2020.

“Things are happening, discussions are happening, that cause you to think no differently than it’s going to be very positive,” Bennington said.

Bennington also said the city started the acquisition process for the Chief Ladiga Trail, and officials will move at an “undetermined pace” through that process.

According to Anniston police Chief Shane Denham, crime in 2019 was at its lowest in his 25-year career.

“I’ll tell you right off the bat we’re not perfect, and I’ll tell you we’re much better today than we’ve ever been,” Denham said.

Denham said the department began evaluating its strengths and weaknesses around five years ago. Now, Denham said, the department works better with other local agencies and federal agencies.

Last year, Denham said, Anniston officially entered a partnership with federal agents and prosecutors, which has opened the door to several grants that will let the department purchase new technology.

“We’re getting cameras and new computers and taggers and all these things that we’ve never had before,” Denham said.

Anniston fire chief Chris Collins said the department is developing a regional training site close to Station 3 in the Lenlock area. Collins said the goal was initially to save the fire department money while getting firefighters certified. 

Through the training center, Collins said, the department created a training program at Anniston High School that allows seniors to become certified volunteer firefighters.

Outgoing city finance director Cory Salley said the city’s police and fire pension plan is “headed in the right direction.”

Salley said the plan was initially created in the 1950s and promised benefits to police and firefighters after they worked a certain amount of years.

Salley said the city fell behind on payments fell behind on payments, but the plan was amended in 2012. Since then, Salley said, the city has made the appropriate contributions.

“It’s true that there is a huge liability out there, but the city council has been committed to make the payment each year,” Salley said.

Other city leaders gave information about several other departments.

After those leaders spoke, several of the dozens of people who attended asked questions and spoke about those concerns.

Mary Harrington, a member of the Anniston Board of Education, urged those who live in Ward 3 to get involved in local schools.

“I am just peacock proud,” Harrington said. “There are so many good things.”

Another speaker asked Denham how well police were doing with their relations with the community.

Denham said the department started its Community Relations Unit last year, which involves volunteers who do things like visit schools and daycares and post on the department’s Facebook page.

“This year they took on a project, which we’ve done for many years, which was … supporting kids in our community on Christmas,” Denham said. “They identified over 160 families that we helped to buy their children Christmas.”

That same speaker asked how the city helps young people who have been released from jail find work and reassimilate back into society.

Folks said the Dannon Project in Hobson City helps with that and Bennington said there’s an initiative underway by East Alabama Works!, a nonprofit that promotes workforce development.

Other speakers expressed concerns about sex offenders and abandoned homes in their neighborhoods.