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Phillip Tutor: ‘Self-Appointed Saints’ win, Anniston loses in city manager’s departure

  • 3 min to read
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Alcohol started the argument.

Not an argument caused by alcohol — that would have been more interesting — but instead an argument about an alcohol license for a Noble Street bar.

Nineteen or so emails later, Anniston lost another city manager and the raw political dysfunction caused by councilmen Ben Little and David Reddick bled out onto Gurnee Avenue. Again.

Be saddened, or even mad, but don’t be surprised. As long as Little and Reddick warm council chairs, this is inevitable. It’s silly, stupid and wholly unnecessary. Like box wine spilled on your shirt, the dysfunction stains everything it touches. Yet this is what Anniston politics, if not the city, have become.

Jay Johnson didn’t resign as city manager because Little and Reddick were difficult. If only. He resigned because he finally tired of the intimidation from the Self-Appointed Saints of Wards 2 and 3. The persecution started before he was hired and never relented. The incessant insinuations of racial bias and ageism even led Johnson to file a racial discrimination and workplace harassment complaint earlier this year.

Oh, and the worst part: This has happened before. Twice, in fact. Johnson’s predecessors, Brian Johnson and Kent Davis, didn’t escape Anniston solely because of the Self-Appointed Saints of Wards 2 and 3. But they played a part. Jay Johnson’s escape makes three. See the trend?

Little and Reddick don’t want Anniston’s city manager to be competent. They want him malleable and limp, easy to control. They want him to jump when they beckon and skirt the constraints of Anniston’s form of government. They believe anything less than full and immediate cooperation equates to racial bias, even proof that City Hall and the majority-white council are cold to black residents’ needs.

“Follow the money” often is the best way to uncover political truths. In Anniston, money’s not the path to veracity. It’s emails. They don’t lie.

Innocently it began last week. Johnson and Bruce Downey, the city attorney, traded emails about an alcohol license for a Noble Street bar, Parlormint. The ABC Board’s licensing process takes a few weeks. Little, impatient and combative, emailed a demand to discuss the alcohol license in that day’s meeting. Johnson told Little that wasn’t possible and that he was “trying to protect the integrity of the City of Anniston and the defined legal process for consideration of ABC licenses ... You are acting outside the scope of your authority on matters like this.”

Then it got real.

Reddick emailed Johnson to say this is “further proof that you are incapable of bing (sic) a City Manager in the City of Anniston.”

Johnson disputed Reddick’s insinuation that race was in play. Instead, “it has everything to do with following the law.”

Reddick accused Johnson, who is 67, of a “crybaby act.” “What you are is insubordinate and this has to stop. I am done with you accusing me of being racist or even racially motivated.”

Johnson answered. “Your statement on (a) cry baby act is insulting and unacceptable. This is a workplace.”

Little chimed in. “I never should have voted for your employment in Anniston Alabama.”

At 1:33 the following morning, Little accused Johnson of lying. When he woke a few hours later, Johnson defended himself. Ben wrote, “This is one of many reason (sic) you are to be fired ... Your time as city manager is over.” Johnson defended himself. And on it went.

A day later, Johnson resigned.

The Self-Appointed Saints of Wards 2 and 3 won.

Anniston lost, again.

In truth, I’m not sure what Little and Reddick want. I don’t think they want Anniston to fully wither, though I don’t believe they care one way or another. But it’s indisputable that the Self-Appointed Saints of Wards 2 and 3 are blinded by hubris and crippled by their political weaknesses.

Those weaknesses are born from flawed logic and rancid advice and an arrogant assumption that City Hall decisions are steeped in racial bias, and that their feistiness is noble. If City Hall was indeed steeped in racial bias, their fight wouldn’t only be noble; it would be righteous. Instead, it’s divisive and detrimental to the common good.

Little and Reddick are duly elected. Democracy defends them, and it should. But as long as they sit on the council, this is Anniston’s future, a dysfunctional path marked by malaise and missed opportunities. Just read the emails. It’s all there, plain to see.

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

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