In Anniston, the increased competence has come by subtraction. John Spain, the Ward 1 councilman, stepped down late last year after a tenure drenched in controversy. His replacement, Jay Jenkins, has been like a breath of fresh air, one free of grandstanding, hot invective and petty sniping at colleagues.
This week, David Dawson, the councilman from Ward 4, resigned from the council. Dawson, who is out of work and facing a sexual harassment lawsuit, was never the council’s bomb-thrower. He had the city’s best interest at heart, but whatever goodwill he brought to the mix was overwhelmed by the toxicity of his colleagues.
Dawson’s least attractive role was as enabler, specifically in his reluctance to put a stop to the Grand Inquisition of 2010. That exercise in time-wasting and score-settling is one of the lowest points for the current council. Picking one low point out of all the threats, lawsuits, physical confrontations, shouts and insults is a depressing exercise. Better to dismiss the last three years as a lost cause.
That’s a shame because a city like Anniston didn’t have three years to waste. The chore of growing a city is an endless battle. To pause — as Anniston’s City Council did because of internal friction — is to do something worse than standing still; by bogging down the city moved backwards as other local governments found a way to rise above petty differences in the interest of progress.
Anniston’s path to prosperity is found in following suit. The city’s leadership — from its churches, civic groups, nonprofits, businesses and government — must get on the same page. A general consensus on the top three priorities must be agreed upon. Then the message must be spread far and wide.
A good starting point for three areas of emphasis would be schools, safe streets and economic development, particularly at McClellan. Those aren’t the only issues facing Anniston, but those are three that everyone should be able to agree on. Who wants bad public schools? Who wants more crime? Who doesn’t want to see the city bring jobs and people to town through development?
Once the city has settled on its top three priorities, it must search for ways to reach its goals. This isn’t a job to assign to a city council. It’s one where the work must be shared. Yes, the Anniston City Council plays an important role, but voters can’t merely outsource the work to five politicians. Everyone in Anniston has work to do.
The search for Dawson’s replacement is a fresh reminder that is most needed on the Anniston City Council are leaders who can move the city forward.