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Phillip Tutor: The fallacy of Forward 4 All

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Forward 4 All is not forward for all.

It’s forward only for a select few — the fortunate, the monied, the powerful.

It’s not forward for the city of Anniston. 

It’s not forward for those who love Anniston, warts and all, and blanch at the thought of running away because the solution is difficult and they’re tired of the fight.

Legislative staff are drafting a bill that, if it becomes law, would allow Anniston’s Ward 4 — including Golden Springs and much of the east side — to be deannexed from the Model City, state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Tuesday. 

It’s not forward for Anniston’s public schools. It’s not forward for those charged with Anniston’s economic development. It’s not forward for McClellan redevelopment. It’s not forward for Anniston politics, which crave stability, and the tensions between Anniston’s color-coded factions, which need dousing, not inflaming. 

It’s not forward for the city of Oxford —  which, if this massive de-annexation of Anniston’s Ward 4 and east-side neighborhoods transpires, would have to absorb hundreds of additional students, provide thousands of additional homes with police and fire protection and city services, and have its politics rewritten by former Annistonians who demand equal representation. Imagine this: Oxford’s next mayor may live today near Anniston Country Club, for instance. 

It’s not forward for Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade, whose deputies could be asked to protect nearly 10,000 former Annistonians if deannexation occurs and Oxford doesn’t play along.

It’s not forward for Calhoun County Schools, who, like Wade, might have to absorb several thousand Anniston City Schools students. And why? Because if the Forward 4 All draft bill becomes law —  and de-annexes Anniston’s Ward 4 and much of the city’s east side — Anniston’s gutted finances could force the city to dissolve its school system and in turn hand those students to the county.

How do I know that? Because city officials told me that several months ago. They’ve known what’s going on.

Put another way, the Forward 4 All nonprofit — organized this month by five Ward 4 residents — and its draft bill could force Calhoun County Schools to redraw zone boundaries to accommodate students from Anniston High School, Anniston Middle School and most of its elementary schools. And where would those students go? Saks? Wellborn? White Plains? Alexandria? Weaver? Imagine the arguments.

And let’s speak the truth: The people who welcome deannexation of Anniston’s southeastern neighborhoods may swear this isn’t about race, but race can’t be separated from this reprehensible idea. Don’t be stupid or naive. And it’s not only the awful optics of the city’s majority-white neighborhoods requesting to (a.) depart majority-black Anniston; and (b.) beg majority-white Oxford to issue them an invitation.

It’s inseparable from race because Anniston’s rates of violent crime are elevated in sections of Wards 2 and 3, Anniston’s black councilmen are hopelessly disruptive, and Anniston’s school population is overwhelmingly black. That’s what Forward 4 All would leave behind. It’s inseparable from race because a truncated Anniston and its gutted finances would become an Alabama catastrophe remembered for monied, mostly white residents giving up on a city that needs everyone to grab hold of the rope. 

By the way, I get it. My home is in Ward 4. This is personal for my family. 

We live in Anniston because we choose to live in Anniston.

If we wanted to live in Oxford, a fine place, we’d move there.  

There are two Annistons, and everyone knows it. In this city, the notion that homeowners’ property values would increase if their homes were de-annexed long ago became a euphemism for something else, something sinister. Any chance Anniston has of becoming a true Calhoun County partner with Oxford — a partner in economic development, particularly — dies if half of Anniston implodes the city’s future to boost the property values of the well-to-do in Golden Springs.

A divided Anniston is a failed Anniston, and a failed Anniston helps no one — not those who still live within its boundaries, and not those who left. 

There’s only one way forward, and it must be emphatic. 

Without delay the Anniston City Council must denounce this drafted deannexation bill and implore state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to see to it that this proposed legislation dies a swift death. 

And then Annistonians of all races, in all wards — even in Ward 4 — must come together and announce that we’d rather be part of the solution than turn our back and walk away. That would be forward for all.

 

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

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