Since he was first elected in 1984, Oxford has grown from a small interstate town of less than 10,000 residents to become the retail Mecca of Calhoun County. Its population is now more than 20,000, and wise expectations chart the city as the county’s largest in coming years. Its high school resembles a junior college. Its business climate is the county’s best. Its bank accounts overflow.
A single person can’t build a town, but in Oxford’s case, Smith’s fingerprints can be seen on most of the city’s expansions in the last two decades. He has staunch fans and he has strong critics. Yet, in all fairness to Cristy Humphries, who provided Smith with a formidable opponent in Tuesday’s election, it’s no surprise, really, that he was elected to his eighth term.
But take those accolades for what they are: they’re praise, not guarantees of continued success. In that vein, Oxford resembles all of the towns in Calhoun County. Improvement is both relative and necessary.
We’re encouraged that Smith says he’s willing to work with Anniston’s incoming mayor, former Calhoun County municipal judge Vaughn Stewart, and its remade City Council. This editorial board continues to believe — firmly — that regional thinking is paramount for the county’s future. Brick walls do not separate Oxford from Anniston, the county seat. More than one city can benefit when large employers and commercial interests move into the county.
Everything doesn’t have to be Oxford vs. Anniston.
Some competition is inevitable, mind you. Anniston wanted the Publix; Oxford got it. Anniston wishes some of its car dealers hadn’t moved to Oxford. For that matter, Anniston may still wish Oxford hadn’t lured away Noble Street department stores like Sears, decades-old moves that hastened the decline of Anniston’s historical business area.
As long as these cities exist, they will compete for residents and retail dollars.
Our hope is that Smith will be true to his word and see the value of collaborating on projects that can benefit both cities. Such opportunities exist. Industrial development is the perfect example: High-paying jobs recruited to McClellan can offer Oxford more shoppers for its innumerable shopping malls — and more tax revenue for the city. Oxford real-estate owners can compete with Anniston to sell homes (and the city’s public schools) to McClellan workers. Success in one city can produce success in others, as well.
(Amusing it was that Smith, in his talk Wednesday with a Star reporter, said that Anniston’s leaders do “a lot of talking” without accomplishing much. We agree. Our expectation is that Anniston’s incoming leadership will end that trend.)
Smith’s 13-point victory over Humphries will be seen as confirmation that a majority of Oxford residents are pleased with the city’s track. The election returns don’t lie. But Humphries did uncover a growing concern about Oxford’s future — one that hinges on bringing in more middle-class, family supporting jobs instead of jobs that require employees to run cash registers, wait tables and stock shelves.
Clearly, Smith thinks little of that concern. “That’s ignorance on their behalf,” he said. “I think I’ve done my fair share of getting business into this town.”
He’s right. He has done his share. There’s more business in Oxford now than before.
But not all jobs are equal. If Oxford is going to continue pacing Calhoun County business, it would behoove Smith to import more jobs that sustain families, not merely help them get by.