The Spirit of Anniston, an independent nonprofit organization supported financially by the city of Anniston, was temporarily closed after the Spirit of Anniston board terminated the employment of Betsy Bean on Thursday.
Bean, who had headed the organization since April 2007, said board chairman Ray Bryan told her Thursday about the board’s decision.
“My board chair came to me last night and said that essentially the incoming council would not support the Spirit of Anniston with me at the helm,” Bean said.
But Bean, 65, believes there was more to it than that.
“This is a brutal field to be in; it’s so political,” Bean said. “In a racially divided town, it’s doubly hard.”
Bryan declined to comment on Bean’s suspicions, saying he didn’t want to talk about personal information. He did note that the board did want a partnership between the city and the organization.
“We’re certainly aware of the importance of community support for our organization,” Bryan said. “We are sensitive to the opinions of those in government.”
Members of the incoming council, elected this fall, did not acknowledge having expressed any desire to see Bean gone.
Bean’s tussles with the current Anniston City Council started soon after the members were installed in 2008, and it was reflected in the allocations her organization received. In 2010, as it crafted the fiscal year 2011 budget, the council cut the agency’s funding in half, from $190,000 to $95,000.
In 2012, against the wishes of outgoing Mayor Gene Robinson, who wanted to cut off the agency from city funding, the council appropriated $70,000 to Spirit.
Bean believes part of the reason she had problems with the council was her work on the Civil Rights Trail, which, she said, some residents believed cast the city in a negative light. Another issue, Bean said, was her condemnation of the city’s destruction of historic properties including the smokestack on the former Chalk Line site where the new Department of Human Resources building stands, and the Anniston City Land Company building, which was demolished soon after construction on the new judicial complex began on the same block.
Friday, Bean talked about a lack of support from the council and what she said were its other shortcomings, including the lack of a master plan and a lack of financial investment in the downtown area. The lack of support hobbled her in her job, she said.
“They said I should have filled all those empty buildings (downtown),” Bean said. “We could have filled those buildings if the city had done its part. They never did.”
Incoming council members, who will take office Nov. 5, seemed surprised by the board’s move. Seyram Selase said he’d never made any statements saying he didn’t support Spirit or Bean.
Councilman Jay Jenkins said he thought Spirit was an essential part of downtown redevelopment. Although Jenkins said he did think the organization needed to change its focus to the downtown area. But, he noted that expansion in the agency’s mission began before Bean was hired.
Incoming Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he didn’t want to meddle in the board’s affairs and he would work with any group that was charged with redevelopment.
Councilwoman-elect Millie Harris was aware of the problems between the Spirit and the city, but wasn’t sure what caused them.
“She’s had some really visionary ideas,” Harris said. “I didn’t know if the problem was a lack of support by the city or whether it was another problem.”
Attempts Friday to reach David Reddick for this story were unsuccessful.
Bryan said the board was focused on moving forward.
The board is forming a search committee now to hire a new director, Bryan said, and one criterion will be an ability to work with planning and leadership.
“We need anyone in that position to have a good relationship with the city,” Bryan said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.