Councilmen are paired up like shirts and skins on the basketball court, entrenched in their viewpoints and unwilling to cross an imaginary line in the sand that would lead to compromise and progress.
The mayor points fingers. He calls people out. He’s on a roll. Get out of his way. Niceties are relics of the past.
City Council work sessions are contentious. Voices get raised. Emotions escalate.
Recently, one councilman embarked on a tirade about communist China — which, considering the political influence city councilmen have in Alabama, not to mention communist China, makes perfect sense, right? (Hmm. Wonder what Chinese President Hu Jintao thinks of Alabama politics?)
Another councilman tells him: “You don’t know the harm you’re doing.”
The mayor, seething, has had enough. He has his LBJ moment.
He tells the council that he’s “embarrassed for this city because of the mess that has been created. We are pushing personal agendas and cannot get along as a governing body of the people, and therefore the city is at a standstill.”
The newspaper plasters this stuff on the front page.
Cold War references.
Accusations of sympathizing with communists.
Councilmen unshakable in their unwillingness to negotiate.
Mad, mad men.
This isn’t Anniston.
Go ahead, admit it. Thought I’d set you up, didn’t you?
This little hullabaloo comes courtesy of Florence, the north Alabama college town set picturesquely on the bluffs of the Tennessee River. It’s the home of the University of North Alabama and a bunch of fine people. Parts of it are beautiful. It’s worth a visit.
Except for the fact that Anniston has no river, and it has no four-year university, the two cities aren’t wholly disparate. And who knew? Politically, Anniston and Florence seem to be more than awkward, distant cousins who see each other only at funerals and family reunions.
It’s as if Anniston’s political dysfunction has been exported to Florence, like soil pipes packed in wooden crates, though Anniston’s cast of elected characters hasn’t made the road trip. They still lounge around Gurnee Avenue like B-rate actors hoping to be cast in the Christmas play.
Sure, picking at the scabs of Anniston’s political shenanigans is no longer fun. There are only so many times Annistonians can welcome a conversation that begins like this: “Hey, did ya hear what those guys did the other day?”
Yeah, we heard.
It’s an addiction — like cigarettes or the McRib or Jersey Shore. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.
Yet, it’s oddly comforting to hear that the spirit of Anniston politics has taken root in other towns. See? Anniston isn’t the only Alabama town that, in no particular order, has had a mayor allegedly attacked by a councilman, and a councilman suing the mayor for harassment, and that same councilman arrested for allegedly breaking state law, and another councilman wanting to open a Native American reservation on a former Army post, and that same councilman calling the city police department racist and the county courthouse corrupt.
Umm, well, no. Anniston is the only Alabama city where that’s happened.
Nevertheless, the recent goings-on in Florence — as reported by The TimesDaily — give Annistonians hope that this, too, shall pass. It’s not that we’re reveling in another’s misfortune; that would be cruel. It’s that Annistonians downtrodden from the last three years can find solace in the fact that other cities have their own versions of dysfunction.
Contrary to popular belief, Anniston isn’t the Thomas Edison of malapropism or missteps. Anniston doesn’t own those patents.
Birmingham’s former mayor, now in jail, wanted to bid on the Summer Olympics. And Birmingham Councilwoman Lashunda Scales faced an ethics inquiry this summer. And Birmingham’s council got into a publicized tussle with Mayor William Bell’s handling of the response to the April 27 tornadoes.
And that’s just Birmingham. Unless you’re Jacksonville, which seems as if everyone’s on a turkey-induced nap, lots of serenity and cordiality, or Oxford, which has dysfunction, but it’s hidden like a deep family secret, most Alabama cities own their form of weirdness. Some are merely worse than others.
So, don’t worry, Annistonians. Your troubles aren’t as unique as you think.
But if one of Anniston’s councilmen starts yapping about communist sympathizers infiltrating this town, feel free to have your own fit. You won’t be alone.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor.