Phillip Tutor: An Anniston primer for Mr. Johnson
Aug 22, 2013 | 3127 views |  0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Depending on your point of view, Brian Johnson has either tapped into Anniston’s soul or swallowed a king-sized portion of City Hall spin.

Johnson is Anniston’s incoming city manager, the man who, practically speaking, will make Anniston’s trains run on time. Taxpayers will reward him with a $150,0000-a-year salary, plus a $700 signing bonus and an $850 monthly perk to pay for his car and club expenses. That’s real money. Might as well get to know each other.

Johnson is a North Carolinian by birth. He holds two degrees from the University of Georgia, so don’t go asking the guy, “Who you for? Bama or Auburn?” He spent nine years in the military as an intelligence analyst in the Navy and an infantry officer in the Army, so my guess is the first time some fool tries to get up in his face will be the last time, too.

And he already has impressive thoughts about Anniston.

“The opportunities there are mind-boggling.”

“The fabric of the community is very strong.”

“There was a lot of pride, deep-seated and long-tenured pride.”

I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, that his comments are more sincerity than spin. No reason to get off on the wrong foot before his first day on the job.

Nevertheless, there are a few things he needs to know about Anniston.

There are haters. A few of them have legitimate beefs. A few are smart but hopelessly pessimistic. Most would rather see the town burn down, Dresden-like, rather than lift a hand to help.

There are cliques. It’s like ninth grade: There are the cool kids, the nerds, the jocks, the normal kids and the outcasts.

The cool kids now run City Hall, but not everyone’s a fan.

Everybody knows everybody.

Noble Street isn’t just a street. It’s a never-ending debate about redevelopment, parking, business growth and entertainment. Its heyday passed four decades ago, and still the city doesn’t know what to do with it — or what is the best way to do it, either.

Oxford is either a retail-sucking thorn in your side or potentially a good neighbor. You’ll learn which.

Public education is problem No. 1 in Anniston. Nothing else is close. Improve the schools and Anniston may blossom. Retain the status quo and Anniston today is Anniston tomorrow.

There are pockets of distrust among the people, particularly evident in black residents’ lack of trust in how white residents and City Hall operate. Demagogues and malcontents stir up that distrust like witches stirring their cauldrons.

Quintard Avenue at Christmas is gorgeous.

The Chief Ladiga Trail stops at the Anniston city limits not because the city hasn’t been able to afford extending it. It’s because Gurnee Avenue has historically been too backward-thinking to seize the opportunity.

If Ben Little calls, ask him about (a.) the Indians at McClellan, (b.) the pink poodle, (c.) the squirrel-in-the-driveway incident and (d.) his love for the Anniston Police Department.

If Gene Robinson calls, ask him about (a.) slanted parking on Noble Street, (b.) the Spirit of Anniston, (c.) the TV show with John Spain (d.) and The Star.

If you try to change anything — ordinances, traditional events, city policies, anything to do with taxes — you’ll get blowback equal to a Sahara wind.

McClellan is a still-untapped resource that carries the city’s future in the palm of its hand. If public education is problem No. 1, McClellan redevelopment is No. 2.

Based on his shellacking of everyone in the 2012 election, Mayor Vaughn Stewart owns a mandate to change Anniston.

There is crime here. Too much of it involves handguns and young people.

Anniston High and Oxford High don’t play each other in football anymore.

If you don’t know about PCBs, learn.

Anniston’s airport is in Oxford, kind of.

Every year, Confederate heritage types put a bunch of Rebel battle flags in the Quintard median just a few blocks from the city’s only public high school whose student population is nearly 100 percent black. Just sayin’.

If Annistonians say they live “over the mountain,” that likely means they live in Golden Springs.

If Annistonians say they live “on the mountain,” that means they’re rich.

Anniston wanted a Publix, but Oxford got it.

You’ll get tired of people asking when Veterans Memorial Parkway will be finished.

People still talk about the Blizzard of ’93.

If you join Anniston Country Club, don’t fly the green on No. 16.

Anniston wants to become Alabama’s “bike city,” but it has no bike lanes.

If someone says they’re on Alabama 21, that could mean Quintard Avenue, McClellan Boulevard, Jacksonville Highway or Pelham Road.

If someone says go over the mountain on 10th Street, that means you’ll be on Henry Road, Golden Springs Road, Veterans Memorial Parkway and, if you keep going, Leon Smith Parkway.

If someone asks for the nearest pawn shop, check-cashing place, used-car lot or barbeque joint, there’s likely one just across the street.

Take an afternoon and tour the sanctuaries of Parker Memorial, Grace Church, Temple Beth El and St. Michael’s.

If anyone calls Anniston “Toxic Town USA,” I’ll expect you to put your military training to good use.

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