County, Veterans Disagree Over Committee's Mission
By JOHN LENTZ
Representatives from the Moore County Board of Commissioners, the local veterans community and others met Thursday to discuss the future of a war memorial on county land in Carthage.
A joint committee composed of Commissioner Nick Picerno, county Social Services Director John Benton and other county representatives was formed along with area veterans last month. Named the Veterans Memorial Advisory Council, the group is co-chaired by Commissioner Jimmy Melton and Moore County Veterans Memorial Committee Chairman Raymond Doby.
The committee is an outgrowth of a debate veterans had this past summer with commissioners over the future of county-owned land near the memorial off U.S. 15-501. Veterans became concerned when they learned commissioners were discussing the possible sale of that land to Bojangles’ for a fast-food restaurant.
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 motion by the board assured that nothing could be done to the property until the committee decides to do so.
“We are not going to leave any stone unturned, and we will do our best to put this issue to rest,” Melton said to his fellow committee members. “I want it understood that these are not two committees, this is one, and we have the same goal, which is to protect the memorial.”
Melton began Thursday’s discussion by asking the committee to consider ways in which the memorial’s footprint could be established by landscaping and other beautification efforts.
But several veterans, along with Picerno, expressed confusion over the direction the conversation was going.
“I’m confused regarding this entire matter,” Picerno said. “I thought the land where the memorial was placed was not in question, and that we were here to discuss what would be done with the adjacent land.”
Committee member Carolyn Mealing reminded Melton that, in an earlier meeting, Commissioners’ Chairman Larry Caddell stated that the land adjacent to the memorial should remain open space.
“The county board doesn’t control this property,” Melton said. “This will be a decision for the town of Carthage.”
Veterans committee member Ruby Hendrick said she thought the memorial was already protected.
“Not really,” Melton said. “We could sell it tomorrow.”
“So all we’re talking about is protecting where the memorial is now, only that?” Hendrick asked.
Melton nodded in affirmation.
“We’re not talking about the adjacent property (where Bojangles’ could potentially be located) yet,” he said.
Melton said the council had “two groups” to appease: veterans and taxpayers.
“You keep saying taxpayers, but veterans are taxpayers too,” Mealing said.
The conversation returned to landscaping the area around the memorial itself. Benton, who served in the Marine Corps, suggested that the space behind the memorial be turned into a small park with benches and shaded areas where veterans could meet after visiting the site.
“It could be a place where veterans could sit in the shade and talk, have lunch, and talk old times,” he said.
Robert Hayter, chairman of the Moore County Planning Board and a veteran, said a site plan should be prepared to determine how best to give the space around the memorial “dignity and seclusion” as opposed to the veteran group’s wish to keep the entire tract an open space.
“It seems impossible to claim a need for all of this property,” said Hayter, who is a landscape architect.
Hendrick shook her head.
“Then we’ve got a long way to go (to reach an agreement),” she said. “I thought we were here to discuss the open space, but they want to talk about design. They tell me I’m going to be happy, but I’m still waiting for that.”
Mealing said those on the committee who represented the veterans memorial group would not forget their original goal.
“Our one intention is to protect the area from a Bojangles’ or similar type of business moving into the open space beside the memorial,” she said. “We are not going to lose sight of that goal.”
Doby called the meeting “a good start.”
“I think this will all work out all right,” he said. “It’s going to take some time, but we’ve made a good beginning.”
Melton said the date for the group’s next meeting has not yet been determined.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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