The Anniston City Council voted down a request Tuesday night to consult the Alabama attorney general about the city’s move to the headquarters of Consolidated Publishing.
Councilman Ben Little said during the meeting that his request — the only item up for vote on the agenda — was spurred by his apparent concern that the business, which publishes The Anniston Star, would be ethically compromised by leasing now-empty space in the east wing of the building to the city. The requested letter would ask the Attorney General whether the city might face any legal pitfalls, though Little didn’t discuss any foreseen legal consequences.
Councilman David Reddick said that the issue had been raised before but never put on the agenda.
The city agreed last month to a land-swap deal with the U.S. General Services Administration in which Anniston will take ownership of the old federal courthouse on Noble Street, while the government demolishes the current City Hall on Gurnee Avenue to build a new courthouse.
In the interim, the city will move to the Consolidated Publishing building on McClellan Boulevard. Renovation has commenced on the portion of the building city offices will occupy.
“When the council is spending $22,000 a month on The Anniston Star, moving into that building, the newspaper is true to its name — The ‘Anniston’ Star,” Little said.
After the meeting, Star Executive Editor Anthony Cook refuted claims that the newspaper’s arrangement with the city would cause any ethical concerns.
“The agreement the city is making is with the business department of Consolidated Publishing. The newsroom operates independently of the business office,” he said. “Additionally, The Star already receives significant revenue from the city based on legal advertising that’s required by law, but in no way does it influence our news coverage, and neither will this lease agreement.”
Little said he was upset there weren’t two motions on the agenda; one to send a letter to the attorney general asking whether the city was breaking the law by moving into the building, and another to the Alabama Ethics Commission to discuss the ethical implications of the arrangement.
City Attorney Bruce Downey noted that any single member of the council can contact the Ethics Commission to seek a judgment, which wouldn’t require a vote.
Little said that he would have liked it if all the council members had been on board, he said.
Reddick said that he supported the move to the building but didn’t see any reason not to “have all our bases covered.”
Mayor Jack Draper said he didn’t see any legal precedent that would indicate the move to Consolidated Publishing would break any laws.
Draper and Councilwoman Millie Harris voted against sending the letter, while Reddick and Little voted in favor. Councilman Jay Jenkins abstained, and the motion failed.
During its meeting, the City Council also:
— Held first reading for an ordinance declaring city block 148, the site of the current City Hall, as surplus property. Declaring the property surplus will allow the city to deed the land to the U.S. General Services Administration, which is managing the building of the new federal courthouse.
— Held first reading for the amendment of an agreement with M2 Connections and Southern Light LLC, that will extend fiber optic service to the temporary City Hall offices.
— Listened to public comment from residents of the Anniston Public Housing Authority’s residential apartment buildings who were concerned about contamination beneath Cooper Homes, Barber Homes and Glen Addie Homes, and whether that contamination had affected their children.
— Heard a representative of Voices of the People discuss a pool party that’s to be held Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at John Nettles Park, 214 S. Christine Ave., with free admission, food and transportation. Those interested can call 256-283-3364 for transportation or to volunteer.
— Heard from Demetric Roberts, a volunteer with Something To Do Sunday, who announced that the next gathering will be July 21 from 3-5 p.m. at Glen Addie Community Center, 426 Mulberry Ave.