The weather, metaphorically speaking, was different four years ago. Back then a consensus was taking root in our community. Instead of governing, growing and guiding, Anniston’s City Council was spending more of its time fussing, fighting and filing lawsuits.
For a city in desperate need of working together to solve persistent challenges, the refrain from City Hall was all too frequently one of disharmony and dispute.
In performing its role as watchdog over local government, The Anniston Star chronicled the dysfunction. That’s our job as journalists: to observe, to report and to put into context. Yet we took no great pleasure in reporting on grand inquisitions, endless litigation and physical confrontations.
By 2010, the narrative had been set. Almost everyone who cared about Anniston was fed up with the council. Yet, emotions ranging from disappointment to embarrassment to righteous anger weren’t going to be enough to create the changes we were all seeking.
Negative wasn’t enough, there would have to be a positive.
The Star’s editorial board leaned on the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century Frenchman who chronicled life in a very young United States. De Tocqueville noted that “without newspapers, there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend many more ills than they cause.”
Newspapers can — and should — serve as a catalyst for civic action. A newspaper can curse darkness (which by 2010 was easy to accomplish) or it can provide a path to the light. With that in mind, The Star devoted its Aug. 29, 2010, front page to an editorial that sought solutions to a very big problem and called on citizens to mend our ills.
Our call said, in part, “It is time for residents to come together, discuss the remedies available, choose leadership and shape outrage into a clear, sensible program of reform.”
So, we sounded the call to arms of a civic army … and, best of all, it answered.
The tone, as well as the elected leadership, has changed for the better at City Hall. We have a City Council that heard from the voters during campaign season through an extensive series of community forums. As we contemplated awarding the 2013 Citizen of the Year, we were reminded of the loyal soldiers serving in this civic army and their many battlefield accomplishments.
Limiting recognition of this valuable work on behalf of democracy to a single citizen was impossible.
So, we are breaking form this year and naming Citizens of the Year (plural). These four people represent organizations that played a tremendous role in promoting a municipal election oriented toward asking candidates to contemplate a brighter future for their city and the constructive role they could play in getting us there.
It is with great pleasure that we name as 2013 Citizens of the Year:
• Women Empowered represented by Ellen Bass.
• REAL Men of Anniston represented by Victor Williams.
• The Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce represented by Sonde Coleman.
• GETT Moving East Alabama represented by Julia Segars.
Keep up the good work.