The business district consisted of Noble Street and its immediate side streets. To its west was not only the flat land and railroads needed by textile mills and pipe shops but also housing where their employees lived. To the east, on gradually higher ground, lived owners and managers of those factories, as well as upwardly mobile merchants and professionals.
The division eventually ossified into a mindset about how not only social relations but political power functioned in Anniston. That mindset might soon have to change.
A proposed set of new ward lines is following an eastward shift in Anniston’s population. If the City Council approves the new lines, Ward 2 will creep across Quintard for the first time, wrapping beneath the city’s old northern boundary to take in neighborhoods north of Stringfellow Hospital. Ward 3, a primarily southwestern district, will expand to take in some small chunks of what’s now Ward 1 — including part of the Leighton-Christine professional office district — and Ward 4, including RMC.
Mayor Gene Robinson thinks that might be a good thing. If new wards cross old lines, the concerns of both the affluent and the poorer could come under the umbrella of each councilman.
“It should be that way,” Robinson said of the change. “Perhaps our community will meld more together.”
The new map being proposed is based on population changes measured by the 2010 census. According to federal law, the census triggers a review of political boundaries and Anniston’s were way out of whack.
The wards are supposed to divide the city’s population as evenly as possible — according to the census figures, 5,777 would be the ideal number of residents in each ward — giving each resident equal representation in the municipal government. But over the past 10 years, the city’s population has drifted east, making Wards 1 and 4 much larger than Wards 2 and 3. That means former Ward 1 Councilman John Spain and Ward 4 Councilman David Dawson are representing substantially more residents than Ward 2 Councilman Herbert Palmore and Ward 3 Councilman Ben Little. To compensate, Wards 1 and 4 had to give up some residents to their neighbors to the west.
The city hired East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission to review the census data and create the ward maps. Dawn Landholm, principal planner at the commission, has been working with Don Hoyt, Anniston’s city manager on the project.
The proposed map would bring the populations in each ward more in line with one another and closer to the ideal population of 5,777. In the proposal, the largest variance from the ideal is in Ward 1, 80 residents shy of the ideal population. The smallest variance is in Ward 4 at 15 fewer than the ideal. Right now, Ward 1 contains 874 residents more than the ideal while Ward 3 contains 744 fewer than the ideal.
However, when drawing the new map, the city had to consider more than just population. She and Hoyt also tried to retain generally uniform shapes as much as possible, Landholm said.
“We tried to keep the shapes of the districts from having little tendrils snaking out,” Landholm said.
Such shapes — common to a practice called gerrymandering, in which politicians seek to give certain candidates an advantage through oddly shaped districts — can draw the attention of the U. S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department will review the new map before it can go into effect. As it reviews the proposed map, the department will be looking to see that minority voting power isn’t diluted in the new wards.
That means the city had to consider the ethnicity of the residents in the areas being changed from one ward to another. Wards 1 and 4 had the highest populations and the largest percentages of white residents. In the proposed map, the percentage of white voters in those wards will increase to 50.52 percent and 79.26 percent respectively.
In fact, every ward’s percentage of white voters will increase slightly due to the changes, Hoyt said.
“Only one had a noticeable change and that was Ward 3,” Hoyt said.
Ward 3 went from having 24.16 percent white residents to 30.44 percent.
However, Wards 2 and 3 will maintain their large black majorities, with 78.32 percent and 66 percent black residents respectively.
“We looked for areas that were racially mixed, so that we could maintain their minority percentages in those districts,” Landholm said, explaining how she and Hoyt chose the areas to move into other wards. “We tried a few different options.”
The proposed changes will be up for discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The council members will have 30 days to approve or revise the changes, Hoyt said. If the members do not approve a map, the city manager’s proposed map will become the new map and will be submitted to the Justice Department, Hoyt said.
Robinson, who is elected at large and doesn’t represent a single ward, said he likes the new ward map. But one change is a concern for him.
Dawson has been living on Keith Avenue in a section that would go from being in Ward 4 to Ward 3. At the house, no one answered the door. However, there was a communication on the door addressed to D. Dawson and the neighbor across the street said he did know the councilman and that Dawson was living there.
Hoyt said the official address Dawson listed with the city is 14 Christopher Way, located in a neighborhood on Tenth Street mountain. Hoyt was unsure whether the Keith Avenue address, closer to downtown, was a temporary one.
According to court documents, Dawson’s daughter and estranged wife live at the Christopher Way address.
Dawson didn’t return multiple phone calls about the ward changes.
Little, who provided Dawson’s Keith Avenue address, said he would be unable to support the map if it removes Dawson from his district.
“That shouldn’t even be up for debate — drawing someone out — unless it was absolutely impossible to get to the figure that you need to get to,” Little said.
The councilman would be able to tweak the proposed lines on Tuesday, Little said.
Councilman Palmore didn’t immediately return a phone call about the ward changes.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.
* Red lines indicate previous ward boundary