Phillip Tutor: Planning away in Anniston
Sep 12, 2013 | 2875 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Best I can tell, John Lennon never visited Anniston.

Nevertheless, Anniston’s movers and shakers would be wise to consider this line from one of Lennon’s songs:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Granted, that phrase didn’t originate with the Beatle, but it’s meaningful, still.

Mayor Vaughn Stewart and the City Council’s hand-picked committee of Annistonians have been meeting since the summer as part of their “One City, One Vision” campaign. It’s a noble effort. Voters swept the Stewart City Hall into office amid a tidal wave of distrust and disgust over the rancid smell of Gurnee Avenue politics. Competence replaced lunacy.

That being the case, this City Council is The Great Conciliator of modern-day Anniston, and that’s not a cheap shot. Repair work was mandatory; it’s underway. Stewart and the Gurnee gang have opened their doors to everyone — poor and rich, white and black, influential country clubbers and quiet nobodies. All, it seems, are welcome.

Commend them for that.

Unofficially, if not whimsically, the council has set an Anniston record for holding community meetings, listening tours and planning sessions. It’s as if Stewart, an Anniston High grad, wears an “I (Heart) Anniston!” tee underneath his button-down shirt and tie. The latest party took place Thursday night at the City Meeting Center in the first of three public workshops in September. Two more follow next week in Golden Springs (Tuesday, Norwood Hodges Community Center) and west Anniston (Carver Community Center). “It is clear that without a plan of action,” the campaign’s organizers have written, “little will likely improve for residents or businesses.” Bingo.

The goal, according to One City, One Vision, is “to prepare a community-driven strategic plan” that rights Anniston’s course and maps its future. There’s even a timeline on the campaign website that details what will happen when. Barring a hiccup, “jumpstarting implementation” — silly PR jargon — begins in November.

In other words, Annistonians should expect more doing on Gurnee Avenue as the fall drifts toward winter. Considering the Stewart City Hall won election 13 months ago, it’s time to aggressively wield some of the mayor’s political capital, indeed.

But what should be done?

Anniston’s needs resemble Wal-Mart. Everything is included: fiscal concerns, racial issues, public education necessities, retail and commercial development questions and difficult-to-tackle problems such as this: How can Anniston stem the tide of a dwindling population, particularly the loss of its young and upwardly mobile adults?

If you’re planning Anniston’s future …

Does Anniston need more or fewer public parks?

Should Anniston embrace ecotourism as its saviour?

What should be the relationship — physically, fiscally — between the city and its public schools?

What is the role of Spirit of Anniston? Does the public really know?

What can be done, or should be done, about south Quintard and Alabama 202, two main Anniston entryways for travelers on Interstate 20?

Long-term, how can this former military town reinvent itself as a city of progressiveness, modernity and economic viability?

In other words, close your eyes and imagine Anniston 2030. What do you see?

This discussion — ad nauseum, to be truthful — is both productive and tiring. It beats the heck out of what constituted for planning under the 2008 council, whose mayor, the irrepressible Gene Robinson, often stood on roadsides holding placards to get his message across to Anniston residents.

Can’t see Stewart doing that anytime soon.

Nevertheless, I’m afraid that lost in this effort is the acknowledgement that politics — good, ol’ small-town politics — is the elephant in the One City, One Vision room. Anniston isn’t a business piloted by a stable ownership group. It’s a municipality that elects new leaders every four years. Plans today can be ignored tomorrow.

Put bluntly: One City, One Vision can plan until it faints, but a future council may choose different paths. In politics, nothing is guaranteed. And heaven help us if a reprise of the 2008 Election Day fiasco occurs. Anniston might not survive.

So plan away, One City, One Vision. Gather input. Get ideas. Canvas the community. Seek advice.

But Anniston needs improvement — not later, now. That “jumpstarting implementation” jargon sounds pretty good to me.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.
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