Two years ago this month voters in Anniston elected a new mayor and new majority on the City Council. They made a good start in dismissing a baseless suit that had held up the development of Fort McClellan.
From that point, everything at City Hall went downhill. It became a crucible of chaos.
We could recite the whole list of crimes against good governance, but as serious as those indictments are, now this council has reached a new height in infamy. The Grand Inquisition that has been going on for weeks is the apex of folly: grown men screaming at each as city government implodes around them.
Two years of this madness are left, and there doesn’t appear to be a single statesman among the five who could step forward and restore sanity.
What can we do; is there a path to sane and productive governance? It is not too early for the city and its residents to consider a change, or possibly several changes.
Within the city’s legal code is an option to increase the number of wards, from the current four plus a mayor to as many as seven. A survey of top legal minds reveals that such a change is possible for Anniston, though not without obstacles. For instance, any change in ward boundaries must meet with the approval of the Justice Department as it applies the Voting Rights Act.
Anniston’s code allows for the city manager to propose the change in the number of wards, up to seven. If the council rejects the manager’s proposal, it must create its own proposal to be submitted to the voters for approval or disapproval.
Either way, residents can weigh in on an increase in ward representatives that would have several positives for the city:
Anniston has grown in area while shrinking in population. More wards would satisfy Justice Department requirements that representative-districts be tightly drawn communities of interest.
More wards would allow the city to completely overhaul its ward boundaries, lines that have changed very little since they were created 30 years ago.
The timing of the 2010 Census and the resulting opportunity for redistricting means that now is the perfect time to consider overhauling the way the city is represented.
Additional wards allow for the possibility of at-large council members, something that might break the logjam of highly provincial politics that too often misses the needs of the whole community.
And a discussion of more wards creates a referendum on Anniston’s current council. There’s no easy and reliable method for electoral recall, an oversight many Anniston residents are surely wishing for today.
We are fed up. But it will take more than outrage to bring reasoned, civil dialogue back to City Hall; it will take a civic army. It is time for residents to come together, discuss the remedies available, choose leadership and shape outrage into a clear, sensible program of reform.
This city has a legacy of good leadership that comes down from the founding families. When the civil rights crisis loomed, thoughtful leaders took the stage away from the hotheads. Again, when scandal tarred City Hall, local men – and many strong women – rose up and achieved reform.
Anniston can, and surely will reaffirm that heritage … starting now.