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Ward 4 residents talk with Marsh about deannexation

Golden Springers

The community center in Golden Springs held a good-sized crowd of people Thursday who wanted to talk about and listen to ideas concerning a proposed deannexation of Ward 4 from the City of Anniston.

Annexit, the proposal to move Council Ward 4 and surrounding neighborhoods out of Anniston, is far from a done deal, state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, indicated at the start of a meeting with Ward 4 residents Thursday.

“I have not taken a position on the issue,” Marsh said. “I’m totally open.”

Marsh met with roughly 250 Anniston residents at Norwood Hodges Community Center, near the heart of Ward 4, in a town-hall-style meeting to discuss the proposed secession of the ward from the Model City. 

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A group of Ward 4 residents, known as Forward 4 All, approached Marsh last year with the deannexation plan — a plan that, in its original form, would have taken the mostly-white ward out of majority-black Anniston and moved it into Oxford. Proponents of the plan cited stagnant property values and  a poorly regarded school system as their reasons to leave. 

Marsh has never endorsed the plan — drafted as a proposed bill for the state Legislature by Forward 4 All — but has also never said he’ll oppose it. The Anniston City Council has unanimously opposed it and Oxford officials have said they don’t want Ward 4. 

The seems to have generated backlash from local residents, too. At a public meeting at the Anniston Meeting Center earlier this week, speakers against Annexit vastly outnumbered supporters. Sentiment at the Thursday meeting was only a little less lopsided. 

Anniston resident George “Dee” Gorey, an incorporator of Forward 4 All, said home values in the city were suffering because people don’t want to move into homes zoned for city schools.

“I can tell you that the perception of Anniston city schools is not good, and the perception is causing the problem,” he said. 

Gorey claimed that Ward 4 would be “one of the top economic development areas in the state” if not for Anniston’s reputation.

“I see a number of people here who sacrificed so they could send their children to private schools,” said Gorey, a former president of the Donoho School. 

Most speakers, though defended the schools — and chided Annexit supporters for not doing more to work to help them.

“Schools are not here to fix the community,” said Anniston resident Johnny Byrd. “Communities fix schools.” 

Rose Munford, the longtime volunteer who provides art classes for Anniston’s elementary students, said even the city’s youngest residents are aware of the perception of the school system, and are hurt by it. 

“We are allowing the blindness of others, and the negativity, keep us from seeing the beauty,” she said. 

Still, the divided loyalties caused by the school system’s troubles were clear. Ward 4 resident Mike Poe said was strongly opposed to taking his ward out of Anniston. Yet he also acknowledged that he moved to Jacksonville when his kids were school-aged, and moved back when they were grown. 

He challenged the notion that property values in Anniston were declining. 

“The two times we sold a house in Anniston, we sold in a week,” he said. He said he broke even on both transactions — the same as he did when selling a house in Jacksonville. 

Marsh has said he wouldn’t support any Annexit proposal that doesn’t include a vote by the people locally. Poe on Thursday asked Marsh if that vote would be citywide or would involve just residents of Ward 4.

“That decision will be made by the Legislature, but that decision has not been made,” Marsh said. 

The Legislature begins its session next week, but Marsh gave no indication of whether he’d file an Annexit bill. 

At least one speaker came to complain about not being inside city limits. Ward 4 is peppered with “out parcels,” completely surrounded by the city, that were never annexed into Anniston as the city grew around them. Outparcel resident Brian Wilkins said it wasn’t fair that he was surrounded by Ward 4 but not allowed to vote in the city.

“Can we do anything about these out areas?” he asked. 

Ward 1 Councilman Jay Jenkins told Wilkins he likely lived in a home built by a developer who declined to annex into the city. 

“Yes, you can choose to be annexed into the city,” he said. “We’d be glad to have you.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.