Veterans Protest Possible Bojangles' Near Memorial
Military veterans came to the Moore County Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, hoping for assurance that a fast food restaurant would not be constructed near the war memorial in Carthage.
But that promise was not forthcoming.
Charles Spelman, president of the Moore County-based Vietnam Veterans Chapter 966, led more than 50 veterans and their supporters who urged the board to limit future development of property adjacent to the memorial to professional offices only.
Spelman, a Seven Lakes resident, delivered a 10-minute slide presentation on the local memorial, which included references to similar monuments to veterans in different cities. Carrying placards that read “Respect Our Veterans,” “Keep Our Vets’ Memorial Sacred” and “Honor Our Heroes,” the veterans and supporters stood and sang Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” at the end of the presentation.
Veteran Ronnie Comer called the area “sacred ground.”
“I’m not against Bojangles’, I’m against where it’s going to be put,” he said. “I don’t want to be sitting there, thinking about my father, and hear ‘May I take your order?’ It’s like putting a Bojangles’ in the middle of a graveyard.”
The issue arose last month when The Pilot filed a request for the county board to release the closed-session meeting minutes from Oct. 18, 2011, and from Feb. 7 and May 15 of this year. The request came after Commissioner Tim Lea accused fellow board members of violating the public meetings law by discussing the sale of property near the war memorial to the Bojangles’ restaurant company.
Those minutes reflect that Bojangles’ wanted to buy a site near the veterans memorial, and that a broker had originally offered $280,000 for 1.3 acres. The state’s open meetings law allows governmental boards to meet in closed session to discuss buying land but not selling it.
Some commissioners say nothing can be decided about the property until an ongoing study of county-owned property is completed.
Commissioner Nick Picerno said the veterans’ reaction was taking place “much too soon.”
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say again that I think (protesting) this is way too premature,” he said. “Until our land use study is completed, we have no idea what will happen in regard to that property. I can tell you this, though. My father was a prisoner of war in Korea, and his name is on that monument. I will never do anything to desecrate that memorial.”
Commissioners’ Chairman Larry Caddell agreed.
“Until we get the study back we don’t have a clue what will happen,” he said. “My dad served in World War II, and I put my life on hold to serve my country. Thanks for your passion, Mr. Spelman. I have the same passion for the military.”
Commissioner Jimmy Melton thanked the group for their presentation.
“As long as I’m commissioner, this will be sacred ground,” he said, receiving a standing ovation from the audience. “God bless all of you.”
Melton then proposed delaying a decision on the issue until the land use study was complete and Caddell seconded.
Lea spoke before a vote was taken.
“This is not a land-use study question,” he told the veterans. “What you hear are politicians sidestepping the issue. They are using the land-use study as an excuse while we have the authority (right now) to protect the site. Please be vigilant and hold this board accountable.”
Lea is not running for re-election and goes off the board this fall.
Spelman then took the floor.
“I have the documentation here (of the closed session minutes), all behind closed doors that, according to the law, is illegal,” Spelman said]. “This is what it’s all about, gentlemen. The only thing I’m interested in is this war memorial. I didn’t put that presentation together for nothing.”
Caddell responded to Spelman’s accusation.
“We know you have that,” he said. “It’s public record. If anybody was protecting this memorial it was me.”
The vote to postpone a decision on protecting the land adjacent to the memorial passed 3-2, with Lea and Picerno voting against.
Gulf War veteran Jean Beadle, who attended the meeting, said that she and other veterans felt “betrayed” by the board.
“I felt that except for Commissioner Lea and the one sitting beside him who didn’t say much (Commissioner Craig Kennedy), they were lying to us, and when I went home and read the closed session minutes I knew that they were,” Beadle said. “They have the power to protect that land now, but it’s obvious that some of them have an agenda. They can sugar coat it by saying their decision to postpone a decision is best for the county, but it’s not. They’re looking out for themselves, not the county, and certainly not the veterans.”
Picerno explained his “no” vote after the meeting.
“I felt like we didn’t need to take any action,” he said. “I don’t want to discuss the issue at all, yet. We need a vision, a plan, before we decide.”
Another area of contention between Picerno and Lea concerned the transfer of property to the county Senior Enrichment Center.
In 1999, the county purchased two acres from landowner David Drexel, who donated another two acres as the location of a planned Senior Enrichment Center.
In 2007, the county built a center at another location, leaving the Drexel property undeveloped. It was suggested at the time that proceeds from any future sale of the Drexel property would be donated to the Senior Enrichment Center.
Regarding a resolution presented at Tuesday’s meeting designed to confirm that all proceeds from a sale would go to the Senior Enrichment Center, Picerno said he would support the language in the resolution provided a small change was made.
Lea offered a second before Picerno stopped him.
“Before you make your second let me say this,” Lea said. “I would like the phrase that states the land would ‘be donated’ changed to ‘be used for the purpose of.’ If we donate the land to you,” he told the two Senior Enrichment Center representatives present, “there will be no accountability from an elected official.”
But Lea took issue with Picerno’s request.
“I don’t know if future boards will understand this,” he said. “If the resolution is left intact, then the funds automatically go to the Senior Enrichment Center as originally intended. What you’re doing is bringing it in to the political arena.”
County attorney Misty Leland stated that since the Senior Enrichment Center is affiliated with a county agency then “no committee” can make a decision about the use of land sale funds anyway.
“You mean if we leave the word ‘donated’ it’s still up to the ‘politicians?’” Picerno asked sarcastically.
He then re-introduced the motion to include the original language, which Lea seconded. The resolution passed unanimously.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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