Population shift brings Oxford voice onto Calhoun County Commission
by Brian Anderson
Jan 31, 2013 | 4717 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When the Calhoun County Commission meets in two weeks, an Oxford voice will be heard at the table for the first time in at least 60 years.

With an appointment from Gov. Robert Bentley on Monday, Don Hudson, Oxford’s parks and recreation director, became the first commissioner from Calhoun County’s southernmost city since at least 1947, according to County Administrator Ken Joiner.

“You know what I say about that — it’s about time,” said Hudson on Thursday.

Hudson’s official introduction to the public will take place today at the Ken Joiner County Administration Building at 10 a.m.

Joiner said the lack of an Oxford commissioner for so many years isn’t a surprising revelation to him. Up until the late 1980s, the county was governed by three commissioners — one selected at large, one from a northern district representing Piedmont and Jacksonville, and one from a southern district representing Anniston and Oxford.

And for years Anniston, the larger city in the county, dominated the political landscape. When Hudson, 62, was growing up, Oxford’s population was less than 2,000 people.

The 2010 Census put into numbers Oxford’s rapid growth in recent years. While Anniston, the county seat, decreased slightly in population between 2000 and 2010, Oxford nearly doubled in size to more than 21,000 residents.

Oxford also used to be much smaller geographically. Hudson said what is now considered the downtown area of the city, used to be all there was of Oxford. However, the city has annexed parts of Coldwater, Bynum and Wellborn over the years, radically expanding its boundaries.

“It used to be, you wanted someone from Wellborn on the commission, but now it’s Oxford,” said Eli Henderson, Calhoun County’s circuit clerk.

For 18 years, Henderson, a Wellborn native, held the District 3 seat on the commission, but Hudson’s appointment better reflects the current demographics of the region, Henderson said. Oxford residents make up more than 75 percent of the total of registered voters for the district.

“Wellborn High School is a 2A school, and Oxford is 6A,” Henderson said. “That’s because all our kids are now going there.”

Growth has also come through the city’s economy, said Mike Braxton, an Oxford resident who interviewed last week for the open county seat and who plans to run in the next election.

“It’s the economic engine of the county,” Braxton said. “It’s kind of hard to ignore.”

And anyway you look at it, money is important in politics, Joiner said, and it doesn’t surprise him that Oxford looks like it might get more representation on the commission.

“When you get anyone from a certain area, they’re going to kind of look out for their district,” Joiner said. “It’s all about money, and unfortunately, that’s one thing we’re not blessed with a whole lot of.”

Despite his long tenure on the commission, and political clout, Henderson said he sees Oxford dominating District 3 in the future. That doesn’t mean, he said, that the district’s commissioner can only concern himself with the city.

“It’s going to be really hard for someone not from Oxford to get elected,” Henderson said. “But there’s not much they can do for Oxford. Most of the work in that district, roads and things like that, that’s all in Ohatchee.”

Gene Howard, chairman of the Calhoun County Republican Party, said candidates he looked at represented a diverse background, and little attention was paid to geography. Still, of the four candidates interviewed by Gov. Bentley’s appointments committee, only one – Ohatchee Councilwoman Teresa Lott – hails from the northern reaches of District 3, with Janet Odom living just outside the Oxford city limits and Braxton and Hudson both in Oxford.

“I’m sure that factored into the final decision,” said Howard, who vetted the candidates, but had no say in the Governor’s final decision. “Oxford is one of the most important areas of the county.”

There’s also room for Oxford to expand into other districts as well. The majority of voters in District 2, represented by Tim Hodges, currently live in east Anniston, but the district stretches down into Oxford, east of Alabama 21, another area growing in population.

But it might not be so easy to predict how certain cities and areas will dominate districts in the future, Howard said. The County Commission this year will look at redrawing district lines, which could dramatically change voting blocks, especially in heavily populated areas.

No matter where district lines end up falling, Howard said, there’s little chance that Oxford’s increasing trend in population growth and potential future grasp on county government could be diluted by a shakeup.

“There is a definite shift in the geographical make-up of Calhoun County,” Howard said. “And that shift is toward Oxford.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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