Legions of Annistonians troubled by the antics of the council elected in 2008 have surely had Aug. 28, 2012, circled on their calendars for several years. The current council has not only lost but abused the confidence of Anniston’s residents. This cast has squandered the past three years by its petty fighting, score-settling, loud arguing and virtually empty list of accomplishments. It has rendered itself irrelevant, a part of the problem instead part of the solution.
The challenge is that casting a ballot 365 days from now, while an important civic duty, is only a portion of a bigger task ahead for those who live in Anniston, work in Anniston and care about Anniston.
Yes, the city needs new faces at City Hall, but it also desperately needs a vision, a plan to grow and a civic army willing to work together toward common goals. The answers to helping Anniston prosper begin with its stakeholders, not its political class. We, the people who work and live in Anniston, can and must set the agenda. The good news is that many residents have already commenced with this effort, linking arms in various outlets to better steer the city.
In efforts both large and small over the next year, even more Anniston residents must begin thinking about the city’s future. What will Anniston look like in five years? In 10 years? How can it dramatically improve its public schools in order to attract top research companies? How can the city best develop its 18,000-acre gold-plated potential at McClellan? What should the city do to fill its empty storefronts? How does it lift up its deep pockets of poverty?
All of these matters must be wrestled over. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Cities in similar situations as Anniston have created various strategies, including (a.) turning around failing public schools; (b.) developing strategies to work with nearby colleges; (c.) emphasizing recreational tourism; (d.) attracting retirees looking for a place to settle; and (e.) nurturing entrepreneurship.
In many instances, they have employed several of these and other plans.
The consistency comes in the planning, which requires a diverse coalition of community leaders willing to create a long-range plan and public-private partnerships that can raise dollars and work together. Yes, we said together.
For too long, Anniston has often been defined by what divides rather than what unites. That negative approach has failed the city, leading to the poisonous atmosphere at City Hall.
The authors of “Small Towns, Big Ideas: Case Studies in Small Town Community Economic Development,” a study recently featured in an Anniston Star series, note that “Small towns with the most dramatic outcomes tend to be proactive and future-oriented; they embrace change and assume risk.”
Electing five men and women to meet every other week as the Anniston City Council is not enough. The real hard work of looking forward must take place outside City Hall.
Over the next year, this newspaper will be engaged in this process, encouraging a civic conversation about Anniston’s future, highlighting big ideas, calling on leaders to step forward. Anniston’s future begins today. It’s time to go to work.