With signs reading “Keep Our Vets Memorial Sacred” and “Save Our Sacred Ground,” over eighty Moore County residents turned out for the Board of Commissioners’ Tuesday, August 7 meeting, to protest a proposal to build a Bojangles' restaurant next to the Moore County Veterans' Memorial in Carthage.
A resolution to protect the land surrounding the Memorial was presented to the Board by Raymond Doby, Chairman of the Moore County Memorial Committee. The resolution asked that only “open space” and “professional office buildings” be allowed around the Memorial.
After more than an hour of debate, the Board decided — in a four-to-one vote with Commissioner Tim Lea dissenting — to scrap the resolution presented to them by Doby and instead approve a recommendation by Commissioner Jimmy Melton.
Melton suggested forming a committee made up of six veterans, two Commissioners, the County attorney, and various County employees, to discuss the matter and create a new resolution on the Memorial.
“My number one goal is to make sure that Memorial is the icon of this County,” said Melton, “I want to make sure the future of this Memorial is going to be sacred and protected after you and I are gone.”
The Board also unanimously agreed to a recommendation by Commissioner Nick Picerno to suspend all discussion of purchase inquiries about the land surrounding the Memorial until the new committee presents a resolution.
“I told you with my word that I will do nothing to desecrate the Memorial - -and I mean it,” said Picerno “I don’t think it should be a fight between veterans and a Board of Commissioners . . . it’s crazy.”
"We will see how this evolves . . ."
"We will see how this evolves," Chuck Spelman, President of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 966 told The Times, adding “We [Veterans] already have a committee put together.”
Spelman said the trust between the Veterans and the Commissioners has been lost and that he hopes it can be regained. “I don’t know how we get this trust back,” Spelman told the Board.
The first blow to that trust occurred when it came to light in May that the Commissioners had discussed in three separate closed meetings an offer from Bojangles' to purchase county-owned property near the Memorial.
Another blow came Tuesday night, when Spelman presented a series of maps -- two of them drawn by the county's GIS department -- that showed the vacant land in front of the Memorial subdivide into three parcels. One of those parcels was identical to the 1.3 acres sought by Bojangles'.
Spelman had superimposed the Bojangles' map on the County GIS maps. “I superimposed it because I wanted to see if it fit,” said Spelman. “And it fit like a glove.”
Where the Bojangles' plat map came from remained a mystery, until County Manager Cary McSwain said it had been presented to him along with an offer from Bojangles that he had refused. Exactly who asked the GIS department to draw up the other two maps -- and why -- was not made clear during Tuesday night's meeting.
"Outraged and disappointed"
Commissioner Craig Kennedy attempted to assure the veterans of the Board's good intentions.
“We can get a lot more done working with a committee sitting down,” said Kennedy. "We do have the entire County’s best interest at heart . . . we should be working together. We can work this out.”
However, during public comments and prior to the vote, Veterans of Foreign Wars [VFW] Post 7318 Commander Mary Ann O’Connor told the Commissioners she was “outraged and extremely disappointed,” not only with the idea of placing Bojangles' next to the Memorial, but with the Board’s “dishonesty as public servants.”
“Your actions have been deplorable,” said O’Connor.
“You had the authority to stop this nonsense then and there, but you did not have the moral fortitude to do so,” said O’Connor, referring to the Commissioners’ tabling a request by the Veterans at the Board’s Tuesday, July 17 meeting to protect the land adjacent to the Memorial.
“The dollars generated through this sale will not be worth the disservice you Commissioners will be paying each and every Veteran of this County,” said O’Connor.
The crowd erupted in applause -- which continued despite Chairman Caddells effort to quell the outburst.
“Most of those people out there on that wall died for this county and gave us the right to elect you to represent us,” said Randy Craven, who is the Commander at American Legion Post 12 in Carthage. “Reach down inside you and ask: 'Is this the right thing? Think of the blood shed for you. Is it worth the money?”
Mark Koppenhofer, Senior Vice Commander at VFW Post 7318 in Southern Pines, echoed that point: “Ask yourself this: ‘Is this the legacy I wish to leave as council members -- placing a fast food dumpster on a Veteran’s Memorial?'”
“Do not under estimate the passion of Veterans and their family members regarding this Memorial,” said Koppenhofer. “Because equal to our pride in service to this great nation is the anger we will feel toward the desecration -- actual or perceived -- of the memory of those Veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Dual Ownership of Land
After Chairman Caddell said he would prefer to make the area around the Memorial "open-space-only," Commissioner Lea made a motion to accomplish that by amending Doby’s resolution to eliminate the words “professional office buildings.”
But Caddell joined Kennedy and Melton in voting against Lea's motion, which won the support of only Lea and Picerno.
Caddell explained his vote by indicating he would rather the land be deeded jointly to the County and the Veterans.
“If you are going to make it sacred ground, make it sacred ground,” said Caddell. “But don’t stick an office space there that later on you have to come back and fight over.”
However, Doby said the Veterans cannot assume ownership of the land because they do not have the funds to pay the insurance and maintain the property adjacent to the Memorial.
Caddell told the Veterans that is where dual ownership would come in handy. The County could pick up the tab for the insurance and upkeep of the land.
That option is among those the new committee is expected to consider.
Caddell asked the veterans in attendance to present their recommendation for six or seven veterans to serve on the new committee at the Board’s Tuesday, August 21 meeting. Commissioner Lea suggests the veterans might also recommend which Commissioners should serve on the panel.
West End Voting Site
Turning to other business Tuesday evening, the Board approved a $1,500 contract with Neal Smith Engineering, Inc of Southern Pines for a structural inspection of the Old West End School Gym. The gym serves as the polling place for the West End precinct, but needs some repairs and upgrades prior to Election Day in November, when more than 500 voters are expected to use the facility.
“There could possibly be issues with the structure of the building,” said Smith, who said there have been no repairs to the building in years.
After the results of an inspection are compiled, a long range plan can be developed for the building, he added. The hope is that minimal repairs can be done to the building before Election Day.
The Board approved an FY2013 Home and Community Care Block Grant Agreement in the amount of $780,000, as requested by Aging Director Terri Prots. The money will go toward In-Home Aide, Nutrition, Transportation, Senior Center Operations, and Information and Referral programs. The grant requires a local match of $87,000, which is included in this year’s Aging Department Budget.
The Board accepted a $50,000 grant from the state of North Carolina for the School Nurse Funding Initiative [SNFI], as requested by Health Director, Robert Wittman. The money will be used in conjunction with FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Inc to provide a school health nurse to serve Moore County Public Schools.
The Board accepted a $75,000 Urgent Repair Program Grant, as requested by Moore County Planning Supervisor Tim Emmert. The money will be used for repairs to help at least thirteen qualifying Moore County homeowners. The local match for the program is $5,000.
The Board approved a request by John Benton from the Moore County Department of Social Services to enter into an $85,000 contract with Sandhills Transportation for Medicaid Transportation services for eligible clients. The contract is eligible for state and federal reimbursement.
The Board approved a $526,500 storage area network refresh lease with DDI Leasing, Inc. for five years, as requested by Information Technology Director Darlene Yudell. The funding for the first year of the project was approved in this year’s budget.
The Board convened as the East Moore Water District and tabled a request by Yudell to lease the water tower on Union Church Road to Broadlink for installation of a broadband antenna to act as a redundant high capacity network link for County connectivity. There is no cost to the County for this project. County Attorney Leland will review the contract before it comes back to the Commissioners for action.
The Board approved a sewage treatment and disposal service contract with Southern Pines, as requested by Assistant County Manager Ken Larking. Terms of a state loan the County received in order fund an expansion of the Addor wastewater treatment plant requires that the county negotiate long-term contracts with its sewer customers, which include the municipalities of Aberdeen, Carthage, Pinebluff, Southern Pines, Taylortown, and Moore County Public Utilities.
The Board approved an agreement between the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Forest Resources and Moore County for the protection, development and improvement of forest lands in Moore County.
NC Division of Forest Resources submitted a letter of request in July to approve a contract for fiscal year 2012-13 to pay forty percent of the total cost of the Forester or Forest Ranger salaries and expenses in connection with the overall Forestry program in Moore County. The County set aside $158,000 in the annual budget for this program.
Other business conducted during the Commissioners’ Tuesday, August 7 meeting included:
• The Board approved a request by Amy Morris and Matt Garner to proclaim September as National Recovery Month.
• The Board approved a request by County Planner Jeremy Rust to call a public hearing on Tuesday, August 21 at 6:00 pm to consider the adoption of the Moore County Working Lands Protection Plan.
• Human Resources Director Denise Brook presented the employee service awards for the month.
• The Board tabled the presentation of a report on a recent meeting on the options for bringing water from Robbins to southern Moore County that included representatives of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources and County officials.
• A change order for $4,000 for the Little River Lift Station was approved by the Board.
• A Budget Ordinance for the Airport’s Runway 05 Extension was tabled at the request of Airport Executive Director Steve Borden. The $329,000 local share of the cost of the project is to be funded by using a portion of the County occupancy tax.
• The Board agreed that the formal process of selecting a new County Manager will begin after the November elections. Current County Manager Cary McSwain will retire at the end of November.
• The Board appointed Susan Zucchino and Peter Madsen to the Library Board of Trustees.
• The Board appointed Dr. Mark Brenner to the Airport Authority.
• The Board appointed Robert Hayter to the Sandhills Community College Board of Trustees.
• The Board tabled the appointment of Partners in Progress Director Pat Corso to the Workforce Development Board.