Compromise Reached in Veterans' Memorial Issue
A volatile discussion between board members and veterans followed by an attempt at compromise has resulted in a plan to further study a veterans' memorial issue in Carthage.
Veterans and their supporters bearing signs and American flags attended a bi-monthly meeting of the county commissioners for the second straight month to protest the possible sale of county land to the Bojangles corporation that is located near a war memorial. Opponents believe that a fast food restaurant in close proximity to the area would be a detriment to what many consider "hallowed ground" for its monuments bearing the names of county veterans who served and died for their country.
The manner in which commissioners considered a land sale is also a contentious subject among the veterans and others. Recordings of closed session minutes, released to the public following a request from The Pilot, indicated that the board discussed the Bojangles’ sale three times in closed session meetings, at least twice against the advice of its attorney. The state’s public meetings law allows governmental boards to meet in closed session to discuss buying land, but the discussion of selling property is illegal.
Charles Spelman, president of the Moore County-based Vietnam Veterans Chapter 966, presented a brief slide show containing three aerial maps that he said proved the county was "set" on selling a 1.3 acre parcel to Bojangles.
"The first map has the land divided into three parcels marked 'A', 'B' and 'C' between Hardee's and the memorial, while the second map is skewed and adjusts the parcels a bit at a slightly different angle," Spelman said. "Now here is the third map, with a bird's eye illustration of a Bojangles fitting like a glove into the parcel nearest to the Hardee's, and with what appears to be a road behind it leading right up to the memorial. My question is that I would love to know what is going on. The last thing we need is a restaurant or a commercial property going here."
Commissioner Craig Kennedy asked who commissioned the maps and who superimposed a Bojangles onto the property site.
"Believe me, it wasn't us," Spelman said.
County Manager Cary McSwain said the Bojangles illustration was "a prototypical map" to give viewers an idea of what the Bojangles company wanted in relation to a later survey.
Raymond Doby, chairman of the Moore County Veterans Memorial Committee, read a resolution that requested the board of commissioners to consider designating the property as open space or for office building use only, and that the property be "granted in perpetuity" to the veterans' committee "for their future needs." The resolution was a rewrite of a document titled the "Proposed Use Plan" for the area that was rejected by the board during the July 17, 2012 meeting.
Commissioners' Chairman Larry Caddell, apparently stung by accusations that he and other board members were being less than truthful in regard to the land sale discussions, suggested that selected county commissioners and veterans form a committee to study the issue.
"I've been respectful all along," Caddell said. "I'm a vet, too. The only way I'd vote on (the resolution) is if it read 'open space' period. If you want open space, say that, and then you won't have to fight against having a large office building there in the future."
Commissioner Jimmy Melton said his "number one goal" was to "make the memorial an icon of the county."
"Right now all I see is a bunch of lines on a map, but what I'd like to see is the memorial board and the county working together. Come up with a realistic boundary, and we'll see what it looks like. We need to come together in a professional way."
Commissioner Craig Kennedy agreed. "Communication is everything," he said, "and we've not had any. I know we've had harsh words, but in my heart I know we would've done nothing wrong. We have the county's best interests at heart, and we can work this out."
Commissioner Tim Lea then proposed a motion to remove the language from the resolution that said "office space" per Caddell's wishes and vote on it then. Commissioner Nick Picerno seconded Lea's motion.
"We have the option to take action tonight to protect the memorial," Lea said. "Let's go ahead and approve the motion that's on the table."
That motion was defeated 2-3 with Melton, Caddell and Kennedy voting against.
"I think there's a better deal for the veterans, a better way to protect the memorial,"
Melton then proposed another motion, saying that the county "is willing to work with veterans and get it done right" via a committee.
"I'd like to make another motion that the commissioners, county staff and veterans get together on something we can all be proud of, and not arguing," he said.
The motion to form a committee passed 4-1 with Lea dissenting.
Picerno then asked that another motion be made containing language that the county manager be instructed "not to negotiate or to extend offers" to any party regarding the property adjacent to the memorial "until the committee has done its work" regarding the future of the property. That motion passed unanimously.
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