Bob Davis: Anniston’s council, facing hard choices
Aug 31, 2013 | 2906 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One year ago this week, Anniston residents were breathing a sigh of relief, basking in the afterglow of the Aug. 28, 2012, city elections. Having endured four years of City Council sideshow, the Model City could look forward to a new cast on 1128 Gurnee Ave., one that had campaigned on working together for Anniston’s progress.

No incumbent elected in 2008 retained his seat. Instead, Jay Jenkins and Seyram Selase won their ward races in August. Following the early October runoffs, Millie Harris and David Reddick rounded out the two remaining ward representative seats.

Then, there was Vaughn Stewart. In a field of 11 competitors for mayor, Stewart and his unity campaign prevailed with more than 50 percent of the vote last August. It still shocks out-of-towners when they learn Mayor Stewart won out over 10 competitors without having to endure a runoff.

Now that’s a lot of political capital. And we could say the same for the entire council. The city was weary of a politics where bickering was nearly constant and productivity was nearly nonexistent. The voters could reasonably expect good things from this bunch.

The four men and one woman Anniston placed in leadership promised they would be above the antics of their immediate predecessors.

After 10 months on the job, the verdict on that can’t-we-all-get-along promise is so far, so good. Sure, there’ve been disagreements, which is something we should expect from any healthy democracy. Yet, we’ve been spared the shouts, insults, lawsuits and baseless allegations that marred the previous council.

That’s the good news. The bad news for the mayor and the council is that there is so much more work left to do.

Last year’s vote was indeed a “change election.” But the changes can’t stop with behaviour. The hard truth is that Anniston is a shrinking city. It’s losing population as its neighbors are growing. Many of Anniston’s publicly financed institutions were created for a much larger city, one that was one-third more populous 50 years ago. This includes community centers, parks, recreational facilities and elementary schools, which, granted, fall under the direct responsibility of the school board and not the City Council.

The larger point is Anniston is facing real pressure here. A shrinking population means a shrinking tax base, which, in turn, means less revenue for the city’s coffers to afford all the facilities and programs that were once standard.

The options aren’t that complicated. Either reduce expenses or increase revenue. During Tuesday’s council meeting, Danny McCullars, the city’s finance director, submitted a proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Two of the items on the chopping block were The Hill golf course and the Woodland Park softball complex. According to a budget summary, the city has had to prop up operations at The Hill to the tune of about $65,500 a year. Woodland Park is costing the city about $217,000 annually. Another potential cut mentioned last week was the closing of the swimming pool at Carver Community Center.

On each of these proposals, one member of the council or the other voiced a reasonable objection. The Hill is an historic part of the city, a place where the usually high-priced game of golf is more affordable. The Carver pool is valuable to residents who might not otherwise have transportation to another city swimming facility.

None of these arguments can be rejected out of hand. In a representative democracy, constituents deserve someone looking out for their interests.

There comes a point, though, when decisions must be made, a time when the public weighing must give way to action. The actions required for Anniston will mean that something must go away. Either that, or more dollars must be found, a prospect that seems unlikely.

All the while, the city has a lengthy to-do list, including recruiting jobs, filling Anniston’s vacant retail spaces and helping McClellan reach its economic potential.

All hope is not lost. Anniston can turn things around. It has many advantages to do just that, at McClellan, along Veterans Memorial Parkway, at Coldwater Mountain.

Yet, this era of scarcity and declining population will force hard choices.

How the council manages these challenges -- rather than if it minds its manners -- will go a long way in how it is judged by voters in three years.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@annistonstar.com or on Twitter at EditorBobDavis.

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