For much of an hour, the City Council heard criticism of a 4-1 vote to kill a proposal by Councilman David Reddick that would have set aside for public education one-fourth of the one-cent sales tax increase the council passed last year. More than a dozen people spoke out against the council's decision.
Whether to allow the "Rumble on Noble" motorcycle event to take place Aug. 24 — recently a major topic of community discussion — wound up being relegated to secondary status; the council approved a special events liquor permit for the Rumble and voted to close Noble Street between Ninth and 12th streets for the event.
The council also stipulated that planning for next year’s Rumble on Noble should begin earlier, to include a meeting between organizers and the council by Jan. 31.
Although a rally had been expected at the meeting in support of the event, supporters had a hard time squeezing in their comments between residents concerned about improving the city’s schools.
Parents, Board of Education members, concerned residents and clergy queued up for the microphone in a room that was already lined with spectators.
“We voted you in because we expected a change, and now we’re ready for a change,” the Rev. Andre Cunningham told the council.
More than once, members of the council said they wanted to see a plan for how the school system will use the city’s money before the money is given.
Reddick said if it takes two years to come up with a plan, then the city will have two years’ worth of funds waiting to use for its implementation.
Last month, City Finance Director Danny McCullars said that if sales tax revenues follow projections, last year’s sales tax would bring in about $4 million in additional revenue. Under Reddick’s proposal, $1 million would be set aside for the schools.
Last year, the City Council gave $186,000 to the schools to fund a technology initiative, and in 2010, $35,000.
Cunningham, who said his father was a business person, said he understands the concept of not throwing money at a problem. “But I dare not call our children a problem,” he said to applause from the audience.
Board of Education member C.K. Huguley noted the council’s insistence on a plan, telling members that they should have come to the Board of Education to explain their reservations about allocating part of the tax money to the schools.
“Once we present our plan to you,” she told them, “I want you to be ready to execute it and provide the funds that we need.”
Responding to Comments by Councilman Seyram Selase about the school system's performance, Arthur Cottingham, chairman of the board of the Public Education Foundation of Anniston, told the council that although the schools "were not where they need to be as far as reading and math" in recent years, it’s been about 15 years since the city funded the public schools.
In 1993, the City Council approved a half-cent sales tax to fund education, but in 1997, a new City Council redirected that money away from the city schools.
Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council unanimously approved $121,600 in funding to purchase equipment for the schools’ 21st century classroom project, a figure that will be matched by the Board of Education and PEFA.
Selase told the audience after the public comments were complete that they had short memories, noting the council’s commitment to the technology project. He also said the current council is the only council in recent memory to hold multiple meetings with the Board of Education.
Selase’s remarks quickly turned passionate, thundering through the council chamber.
“We can whoop and holler like church, and somebody can catch the Holy Ghost all out; somebody can do the Dougie,” he told the crowd, “but it ain’t going to make no difference if you don’t show up and get involved because we’re on the grind every day.”
Councilman Jay Jenkins is the only member who was on the council when the sales tax passed last year. He said its primary purpose was to shore up the pension fund for police and firefighters, with education and infrastructure being secondary purposes. The resolution passed last year does not apportion how much of the tax should be used for each purpose.
Jenkins said right now, the public schools system spends more money per pupil than most districts, but too much of that money goes to pay for administrators and building maintenance in a system with too many schools.
Reddick said he was disappointed he didn’t receive any support for his proposal from his fellow council members.
“I didn’t say put it in the school today; I didn’t say write a blank check,” he said. “I said let’s allocate it. Let’s set it aside for that purpose.”
The councilman, who announced his plan last month, said he’s had a hard time engaging the council in conversation about the proposal.
“I’m not gonna to quit it. I’m not gonna give up,” he said. “I will not stop until we have a conversation, until we can talk about it, until we can do something.”
In other business, the council:
— Approved $124,000 to fund the Calhoun-Cleburne County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force for fiscal year 2014.
— Approved a $17,861.80 change order to the project to tear down the former McClellan Theater. The additional work will include sidewalks and electrical work where the city plans to build a park pavilion.
— Renamed Cooper Avenue Park the John L. Dunson Park to honor the service of Dunson — a World War II prisoner of war and longtime owner of a West 15th Street barber shop — to his country and the Anniston community.
— Appointed Nathanial Davis and Alice Easley to the Parks, Recreation and Beautification Board with terms ending Nov. 30, 2014.
— Appointed Stan Allen, Jennifer Downey, Bill Miller and Mannon Bankson as alternate municipal judges.
— Re-authorized an economic incentive payment to North American Bus Industries, part of a project agreement among the two entities and the state of Alabama for investments and job growth, to align with the company’s new ownership.
— Approved a restaurant retail liquor application for Prime Dining and Bar at 320 S. Quintard Ave.
— Authorized City Manager Don Hoyt to solicit contributions from state and local agencies to fund statewide military and public safety memorials to be located at Centennial Memorial Park.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
Editor's note: This story has been modified from its original version to clarify comments by Arthur Cottingham about the school system's performance.