The temptation for the city of Anniston is to tread water. With city elections coming in August 2012 and a meager track record of achievement in the last three years, the Model City’s City Council may prefer to limp to the finish line of its term.
The problem is Anniston’s challenges won’t wait on an election cycle. Yes, an election should help define a smart mission for growth, but there are steps that can be taken now.
Too much time has been wasted fussing, arguing, suing and delaying since the current council was sworn in in November 2008. The do-nothing Anniston council can reverse course. It should make a short list of New Year’s resolutions, a couple of wicked problems in need of fixing in Anniston.
The top of our list would be education. The city’s school system ranks near the bottom of a state known for historically poor-performing schools. The results of a weak school system are deadly for the smart growth of a city.
Recruiting new industry becomes more difficult. Companies relocating employees desire cities with top-notch schools for their employees’ kids to attend.
The same industries prefer graduates of a quality public school. This is no luxury; it’s essential when it comes to hiring a well-educated work force.
As the city school district remains mired in mediocrity, it also sees its enrollment declining. Know what else is dropping? The population of the city of Anniston, that’s what. This is no accident; one leads to the other.
The good news is that a recent history of poor schools does not mean a foreclosed future. Regions in much the same shape as Anniston have turned around their schools. They’ve gone to work creating a plan by looking at the best practices from around the country. They’ve solicited input from the public. They’ve set goals and timetables to measure progress. They’ve been prepared to make adjustments if the plan shows weak spots. They’ve recruited a cross-section of a region — people and institutions — to lend a hand. Most have made wise investments through the budget process of local government.
The city of Anniston has more on its to-do list for 2012. Filling the empty storefronts along its once-busy streets should become a preoccupation with councilmen. Bolstering the police force so that residents feel safe anywhere within the city limits is important. Recruiting jobs to the city, particularly to McClellan, can be helped by offering incentives for industrial prospects.
None of the above is easy. None of the above can be achieved in a few weeks, or even months. All of the above depends on Anniston improving the state of its public schools.
In the final months of its current term, the Anniston City Council has the opportunity to shed its bad reputation. If the council will focus on the city’s desperate needs — better schools, safer streets, more jobs — then it won’t have time for the bickering that has marked its first three years.