Tuesday night, after a contentious Anniston City Council meeting, Councilman Seyram Selase took to the social-media site Twitter and briefly explained why Anniston often is a frustrating place for those who crave progress.
“If we don’t work TOGETHER, we won’t accomplish anything,” Selase tweeted.
Modern-day Anniston, however, has a fundamental problem that’s ingrained in its psyche. It was on display at Tuesday’s meeting. And it didn’t show well.
The division that often derails change was there for all to see. The topic: funding for Anniston City Schools. The division: Mayor Vaughn Stewart and three council members — Jay Jenkins, Millie Harris and Selase — demand to see a plan for how the school system would use any extra money the council may throw its way. Councilman David Reddick, state Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, several Anniston Board of Education members and a roomful of residents want the city to fork over a portion of money from a 1-cent sales tax increase passed last year.
Make no mistake, the system is beset with real-world issues such as high dropout rates and poor academic results, despite the fact that it spends more on a per-pupil basis than any system in Calhoun County. Money, though invaluable, doesn’t promise improvement. Money handed over free of a concrete plan for using it only makes matters worse.
Reddick’s proposal — a quarter of the sales-tax revenue earmarked for Anniston schools — died by a 4-1 vote. His was the only affirmative.
After the council’s decision, division, along with dismay, rose to the microphone.
Boyd said “it hurt me to my heart” to see the council take that stance. A local pastor admonished the council. BOE members took their turns, as well. Anniston’s division was unmistakable.
Call it the elephant in Anniston’s room, if you like. The student population of the city’s schools is overwhelmingly black; a majority of families whose children go to Anniston schools live in Wards 2 and 3, which are majority black; and the council, which includes Mayor Stewart, is majority white.
Undoubtedly, there could appear to be an underlying racial factor in play when a black councilman asks for more money for a majority black school district and his plan is rejected by the white members of the council, plus Selase, who is black.
However, appearances don’t tell the whole story. The desire for great schools is not the province of only one race. Fiscal prudence isn’t racial, either
It's both laughable and damnable that Anniston still deals with this issue in 2013. Deep divisions, some racial, some political, do us no good. Anniston must be better than that.