Veterans, County at Odds Over Meeting Procedures
By JOHN LENTZ
A veteran's group is asking Moore County Commis- sioners Chairman Nick Picerno to rectify what it calls a lack of "democratic process" in its meetings with county officials.
"Transparency in government is critical to the democratic process," wrote Ruby Hendrick, secretary to the Moore County Veterans Memorial organization. "Because discussion regarding the Moore County Veterans Memorial is very important to all Moore County citizens, we respectfully request that a public comment period be added to meetings of the Veterans Memorial Advisory Com-mittee and also to subcommittees that are or may be appointed."
At present, veterans say that under the direction of county officials, individuals are not allowed to speak at the joint meetings or at the related subcommittee meetings unless they are members of the committee.
The veterans' group has met with county officials several times since last September in an attempt to settle how best to use land containing and adjacent to the county veterans memorial. Veterans accuse county officials of attempting to convert the adjacent land to commercial use.
"In order to arrive at a decision that is good for all our citizens with respect to the memorial site and the adjoining three-plus acres, it is important that all our citizens have an opportunity to voice their opinions and share their expertise," Hendrick wrote.
A subcommittee of the Veterans Memorial Advisory Council met last week in an attempt to agree on how the memorial area will be landscaped. Veterans unanimously endorsed one option, while another, smaller in scope and using less land area around the memorial, was promoted by the county officials.
Each plan will be reviewed by the full council at its next meeting, the date as yet undetermined.
Members of the veterans group made an additional request through Hen-drick's letter.
"We respectfully request that persons with expertise in specific areas related to the memorial ... be permitted to address the advisory committee and/or subcommittee when requested to do so by any member of the advisory committee or subcommittee for the purpose of providing needed insight, technical expertise or background information relevant to the discussion at hand," Hendrick wrote.
Veterans Memorial Com-mittee member Carolyn Mealing said the latter was added "because unless asked by the county to speak, these county employees and others with knowledge about an issue who could clarify an item by providing important information are not allowed to do so. This is problematic because if the veterans want to request someone's expertise, it is not allowed."
Mealing said that most county-run committees have a public comment period.
"We understand that they don't have to have one, but we would appreciate it if they did," she said. "At present, the veterans have no ability to request that anyone from the public can speak, yet the county picks and chooses their spokespersons at will."
Commissioner Jimmy Melton, who represents the board at the veteran-county joint committee meetings, said that the opportunity for public feedback would come when the work is completed.
"We are in full compliance with the law by choosing not to have public comments during this period," he said. "When the final plans go back to the full board for consideration, then everyone can speak at the public forum. These committee meetings are just for guidelines, and are not for public input."
Melton said that architect Vince Zucchino, a non-committee member who submitted the design favored by veterans, was allowed to speak at a prior meeting because he was the project creator.
Mealing said the public speaking controversy was "avoidable."
"If these meetings were open for public comment, we wouldn't have had to send them this letter," Mealing said. "If they will put everything on the table, it would benefit everyone. As it stands right now, the public doesn't get the full picture at all."
The committee will meet again March 13.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or jlentz@thepilot. com.
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