Vets, County Deadlocked on Memorial Site
By JOHN LENTZ
Local veterans say they remain "challenged" by "the apparent stalling tactics" of the Moore County Board of Commissioners in a bid to protect a memorial to those who served.
Veterans' advocates Ruby Hendrick, Carolyn Mealing and Chuck Spelman recently issued a statement concerning preservation of the Veterans Memorial off U.S. 15-501 in Carthage.
"Veterans' interests remain challenged by Moore County Board of Commissioners' delaying and diversionary tactics as we continue the fight to preserve and protect the sanctity and purpose of the Moore County Veterans Memorial in Carthage," they wrote.
At issue is whether the county-owned land adjacent to the memorial should, in time, be subject to development or held back and preserved as a buffer to the memorial.
Veterans have long sought to stave off development, especially after news surfaced earlier this year that the Bojangles' Corp. was looking at buying land adjacent to the memorial.
The commissioners, hoping to alleviate veterans' concerns, agreed to form a joint committee with them to discuss the site's future.
The Veterans Memorial Advisory Council, which includes Commissioner Nick Picerno, county Social Services Director John Benton and other county representatives, was formed along with area veterans in August. Co-chaired by Commissioner Jimmy Melton and Moore County Veterans Memorial Committee Chairman Raymond Doby, the group met once last month and has not confirmed a date for their second gathering.
Veterans wanted to jointly own the site with the county and prevent future development. County officials on the committee instead spoke of landscaping and buffering the site to protect it from future development.
Veterans call the area "sacred ground," and have been seeking assurance from county officials that the restaurant will not be located near the memorial, requesting that the adjacent land be left vacant.
Commissioners say nothing has been decided and that a recent decision by the board assured that nothing could be done to the property for the time being.
"After listening to one of the resolutions presented by the Moore County Veterans Memorial Committee, Chairman Larry Caddell stated that he would not sign anything unless the entire piece of property between Hardee's and the memorial remained open space, and he proposed that the best way to do this would be to have that property, and the site on which the memorial sits, to be jointly owned by the county and the Moore County Veterans Memorial Committee," the statement from the veterans advocates reads. "He (Caddell) stated further that the joint ownership should include a provision that the county would continue to maintain insurance and normal maintenance as it currently does."
But Caddell said his comments were taken "out of context."
"I was trying to say that since Commissioner Tim Lea had previously said that he wanted to put a 50,000- square-foot government building on the property, which would've blocked the view of the monument, it would be better to leave it open space," he said. "It is my intent to protect the monument, but it is not my intent to give them everything.
"The county has really been good to the veterans. We put up $35,000 of the $47,000 cost for the initial stages of the monument, and we put up the land."
Caddell said that he didn't believe that joint ownership would be a successful solution.
"You could put it in joint ownership, but we tried that with a local cemetery when I was mayor of Carthage and that didn't work out too well," Caddell said. "If we deeded that property to the veterans, they would have to maintain it and pay insurance on it, which they couldn't do, and sooner or later it would come back to us.
"This is a valuable piece of property," he said. "We want to take time to make a decision about it. Since the board has made a motion, a second, and a unanimous vote not to sell it at this time, what is the big hurry? We just want to protect the monument."
Veterans aren't so sure.
"It should be noted that a period of four months had gone by from the time this issue was initially brought up to the commissioners by veterans' organizations and the time a committee was appointed," Mealing and the others observed. "At each meeting where resolutions were presented, the commissioners refused to take any action, citing various reasons for their inaction.
"Once assigned to a committee, it became a simple matter to stretch out the time between meetings until after the election, thus minimizing the potential for negative publicity."
Melton characterized the idea that the county was stalling as "pure nonsense."
"It never even crossed my mind," he said. "Our number one goal is to protect the memorial, and nothing is going to happen to that property until the Advisory Council decides what will be done. It takes time to get this done, and stalling is not something we are intentionally doing."
Melton said that both sides contributed to the length of time it has taken to get the Advisory Council members together.
"It's been hard for everyone to get their schedules together to meet," Melton said.
Melton said that no sale to Bojangles' is pending.
"I can assure you that Bojangles will not go there," he said. "It's not even on the table. They made an offer and we discussed it, but no counter offer was ever made."
The group decided to form a subcommittee "when it became evident there would be no agreement with respect to the portion of the property that should be under discussion or how landscaping and design ideas should be approached."
"Then, more delaying tactics," the statement reads. "Several weeks went by until a date was finally set for the subcommittee to meet on October 29, six weeks after the initial meeting of the county-appointed committee."
Caddell said Melton will be "fair and diligent" in bringing the group to a resolution upon which all will agree.
"Jimmy Melton is one of the smartest men I've ever met," Caddell said. "He is very thorough, and will not let anybody run over him. I am sure that he and Mr. Doby will come up with a good solution."
But Hendrick, Mealing and Spelman say that all that the veterans of Moore County seek is to "be treated with the dignity, honor and respect they deserve."
"If ... the citizens of Moore County cannot spare a mere three acres of land for our veterans, property that has been determined by a recent county land use study is not needed for future county needs, then perhaps we need to re-examine our values," they said. "This issue should not be about money. What amount of money could possibly equate to the sacrifices that our veterans have made and continue to make to preserve and protect our freedom and democratic way of life?"
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or jlentz@thepilot. com.
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