Veterans, County Reach Compromise Committee to Review Land Use Near Memorial
By John Lentz
Local veterans upset with the prospect of Moore County allowing a fast-food restaurant next to a memorial in Carthage have reached a short-term detente of sorts with commissioners over the issue.
Veterans and their supporters bearing signs and American flags attended the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night to protest the possible sale of county land near the veterans memorial in Carthage to Bojangles'.
Opponents believe that a fast-food restaurant so close to the memorial 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 have 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 not selling it.
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 company wanted in relation to a later survey.
Raymond Doby, chairman of the Moore County Veterans Memorial Committee, read a resolution that asked commissioners to consider designating the property as open space or for office buildings only, and that the property be "granted in perpetuity" to the veterans' committee "for their future needs."
The board rejected a similar request last month.
Board Chairman Larry Caddell, stung by veterans' criticism, suggested that a couple of 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."
Caddell also proposed that the county and the veterans' group hold joint ownership of the property.
"We can put this in both names, and then you'll never have to worry about this again," he told the assembled veterans. "Maintenance and insurance costs can be paid by the county. Mr. Doby's fear is that there will be no money for maintenance and upkeep. Joint ownership would solve those problems."
Commissioner Jimmy Melton said his top 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," he said. "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."
Want Same Thing
Commissioner Tim Lea then proposed removing "office space" from the resolution, as Caddell suggested, and vote on it then. Commissioner Nick Picerno agreed.
"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," Caddell said.
Melton then proposed another option, 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 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.
Picerno addressed the audience to make his point that the board and the veterans wanted "the same thing."
"You ladies with the signs, what do they say?" he asked. Audience members held the signs aloft.
"'Keep Our Vets' Memorial Sacred,' 'Honor Our Heroes,' and 'Respect Our Veterans,'" he read. "I said this from the beginning, but nobody seems to listen. You have my word and commitment that the board is agreeing to do exactly what you want. I guarantee that nothing will change at the memorial."
Picerno's motion passed unanimously.
'Lack of Trust'
Spelman told the board that trust was still an issue.
"What's happened in the last three months has been less than credible," he said. "I feel a lack of trust between the commission and the veterans. I don't know how we can get this trust back."
At one point in the discussion between Spelman and the commissioners, Caddell interpreted Spelman's comments as a personal attack.
"I never ordered a map drawn (that depicted Bojangles' on it)," Caddell said. "This is my hometown, and I want what's in its best interest. There is a better way to handle this than hammering it out in public.
"As God is my witness, and may he strike me dead, I've never talked to Bojangles'," Caddell said. "I resent your insinuation that I did."
Spelman later said he was "startled and taken aback" by Caddell's words.
-"I wasn't talking about him," he said.
Despite the veterans' mistrust of the board, Spelman said that he and the others would be willing to give the committee a chance.
"I feel like we finally got somewhere tonight, and if we can get an honest half-and-half committee formed of commissioners and veterans then we might make progress," he said. "We want what Raymond (Doby) wants, and we already have a group put together and ready to talk. We'll see."
In other action, Commissioner Kennedy proposed beginning a formal search for a new county manager only after current manager Cary McSwain retires in November.
"With new board members coming in, I would like to ask the board to consider waiting until we know who the new board will be before taking action on selecting a new county manager," Kennedy said. "I've heard Jim Westbrook is available as an interim manager."
Lea praised Westbrook, but suggested that Assistant County Manager Ken Larking should also be considered.
"In my opinion, the assistant county manager has done an excellent job, and I think that at least from an interim perspective we should give him the opportunity," he said. "It's best that we discuss this in open session."
"As far as I'm concerned, the selection process will be done in open session," he said. "Until I leave as chairman there will be no more closed session meetings if I can help it."
The motion passed unanimously.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or email@example.com.
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