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Phillip Tutor: For now, the mundane is OK for Anniston

Anniston Council retreat

Anniston City Manager Steven Folks speaks to the 2020 version of the City Council during a retreat for council members at the Anniston Regional Airport. 

A single word describes Anniston’s City Council: boring.

And, yes, that’s a compliment.

Since November, the city’s elected delegation has oozed blandness — in what it’s discussed, in its public comportment, in its decisions. It’s been gloriously humdrum, the sort of generic mundaneness you get from white bread and iceberg lettuce. 

“I would absolutely agree,” Mayor Jack Draper said Friday morning. “And I’m thankful that that is the way it’s been.”

It’s notable because this isn’t the way it’s historically been. And we know why. For two decades, Anniston’s council has weathered storm after storm, most of which were self-inflicted, wholly unnecessary and often civically embarrassing. Governing in Calhoun County’s seat has been as much about surviving the nuttiness as much as leading with grace and competence.

Last year’s election solved that problem. Ben Little, Ward 3’s longtime king, fell hard to Ciara Smith. David Reddick, Ward 2’s councilman, ran instead for mayor, and he lost. They had driven off city managers and fought colleagues through truculent email chains, but those departed councilmen weren’t responsible for all of the aforementioned storms.

Anniston went more than a decade without electing a capable incumbent mayor. Nine years ago, voters selected a mayor who told The Star immediately after the election that he had “bought into black corruption in Anniston and it worked.” Anniston elected a 2012 council that was comically pugilistic and litigious. And in 2016 the city elected a de facto two-chamber council that couldn’t agree on the day of the week. 

As godawful and destructive as 2020 was, it gave Anniston something it desperately needed.

Political plainness.

Not in the council members, but in the council’s actions, motives and decisions. Not because Anniston elected Smith and Demetric Roberts, but because Anniston’s council now can focus on matters at hand instead of infantile feuds.

“We recognize the city has lots of issues to deal with,” Draper said. “But I think it’s a far more collegial environment than it was … We first have to figure out how to come together as a group to do that, and I think we’re off to a pretty good start to do it.”

Missing from council meetings is the proselytizing and finger-pointing. And in its place is pedestrian, routine politics — a much-needed correction for a city of Anniston’s declining size and stature. 

In no specific order of importance, here are a few matters the council has addressed since its November swearing-in:

Leaf and garbage collection. Sidewalk projects. Street repaving. More leaf and garbage collection. Citywide infrastructure improvements. Landfill fees. Illegal trash-dumpers. More leaf and garbage collection. A proposed retail development on Alabama 21 near Anniston Middle School. 

I’ve lived in Anniston for three decades, and I had no idea that leaf and garbage collection was a five-alarm headache for City Hall. The council may not have discussed the city’s garbage problem in every work session and every meeting thus far, but gosh if it doesn’t seem like it has.

That’s boring. White bread, iceberg lettuce boring. But small-town local government should be monotonous — pothole repairs and garbage collection and city budgets mixed in with occasional bursts of glee from the opening of a popular retailer or industrial job-creator. That’s always taken place; now, though, it’s easier to notice because the smog has lifted. 

None of this means the second Draper City Hall is destined for more successes than the first. It’s been three months. More than three years remain. And for all this positivity, 21st-century Anniston remains an unrefined product in virtually all aspects. 

Anniston can’t afford for Draper and his colleagues to passively mind city affairs. If anything, the city’s southern neighbor proves a governmental truth: one profitable decision leads to another, and another, and another. Unassertiveness usually loses. 

In a sense, Draper admits as much. “Again, we have a lot of big issues we have to tackle, from blight removal to economic development, finishing out (the Chief) Ladiga (Trail), there’s a lot we need to accomplish,” he said. “At least in these first couple of months we all seem to get along so much better with this group than the previous one. I’m actually looking forward to knocking some of those things out, and I believe that we will be able to do that.”

Anniston’s goal for the rest of 2021 may rest on this simple goal: an embracing of routine, common-sense governance, free of drama and full of workaday accomplishments. 

 

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is a Star columnist. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.

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