The Anniston City Council voted Thursday afternoon against a proposal to allow people inside the city’s multimodal station under certain conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the meeting, Councilman Ben Little sat onstage at the Anniston City Meeting Center and discussed the proposal with Mayor Jack Draper and other council members via teleconference.
Draper and council members Jay Jenkins and Millie Harris voted against the idea, while Little and Councilman David Reddick voted in favor of it before the meeting adjourned.
Currently, Little said, people who needed to use the restroom could knock on the door and a staff member would let them in, but they have to leave as soon as they’re done. Draper said those restrictions were imposed in response to the pandemic.
Little said this posed a problem for people who have to wait outside during bad weather or needed to use the restroom when staff members were on break.
Little asked that the city allow people in as long as they agreed to keep their distance from one another and wash their hands after using the restroom. He said there was a covered pavilion that people could stand under when it rained, but that didn’t protect them from extreme heat or cold.
He said he was also concerned that people using the station were resorting to relieving themselves outside and couldn’t wash their hands before getting on a city bus.
“These poor people should not be ostracized the way we’re doing them right now” Little said. “That’s why I’m looking to the council to let us open the station back up.”
From Draper’s perspective, he said, there is not a lot of room for people in the station because people are urged to stay at least 6 feet away from each other to combat the spread of the virus.
Draper said he’s concerned for the elderly people who use the buses, but having them inside may be more dangerous for them.
“You’re going to have to disinfect the entirety of that building multiple times throughout the day,” Draper said.
Little said staff already keeps the station “impossibly clean.”
If there’s inclement weather, City Manager Steven Folks said, the city can let people inside.
Earlier this month, Harris said, the council voted to give “administrative authority” to Draper and Folks to make decisions in response to the virus, and she wanted to abide by that.
“I believe that they’re going to use good judgement in not punishing people if they need some help,” Harris said during the meeting. “When this is all over, and it will be over, we can go back to normal.”
Little said after the meeting he was “not through with this,” and planned to fight the decision. Little said mainly African Americans, poor white people and Hispanic people used the bus, while the three who voted against the proposal were white and had no connection to the station.
“The action of these three council members towards blacks, poor whites and the least of these leaves me no choice but to come out ... and deal with councilman Jenkins, the mayor and councilman Harris,” Little said.
Harris said during a phone interview her vote had nothing to do with race and everything to do with safety.
“If anyone needs to individually go inside that facility to use the bathroom, they can,” Harris said. “But to congregate in that facility isn’t safe.”