Editorial: Missed opportunities

Michael Gold, Editor

There was an opportunity missed tonight that I, for one, regret.

During the “commissioner comments” portion of tonight’s city commission meeting, Commissioner Roxanne Horvath brought up her concerns over the recent actions against the Silent Sam statue on the grounds of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She referred to one remark made during public comments at the beginning of the meeting by Doug Russo.  He said that citizens would respond “with force, if necessary” to protect the 139-year-old cenotaph placed in the Plaza de la Constitution by the Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine to recognize 44 local soldiers whose bodies were never returned home for a proper burial after the American Civil War.

At least two other speakers used their three-minute allotments to ask the commissioners to reconsider their decision to adopt placement of four descriptive plaques, to be attached directly to the authentic historic artifact.

The choice of narrative on the four new signs has been the bone of contention since accepted by the commissioners in a 4-to-1 vote with Mayor Nancy Shaver dissenting.  Hottest of the hot buttons seems to be use of the inflammatory term “white supremacist”.  Some, including Shaver, have said that any enlightenment from the use of such “trigger words” brings more heat than illumination.

Since the commission’s vote, the City has denied requests for a 10-minute presentation at a city commission meeting for lack of a sponsor.  Shaver indicated previously that she could not be the member to sponsor any presentation to reconsider the prior vote, since she voted against the contextualization plan to start with. 

One of the commissioners who voted to move forward with the recommendation of the seven-member committee, handpicked by City Manager John Regan, must be the one to sponsor any official discussion to reconsider.

But when Horvath expressed her concerns, creating the opportunity for new discussion, vice-mayor Todd Neville stepped in over her in a discussion, with staff and others at the table, on a different topic.  To her credit, Shaver reminded the commissioners that Horvath had asked a question and returned the floor to her. 

Horvath restated her interest and questioned if there was anyone else who wanted to discuss the controversial memorial discussion.  The table was silent, and this time, Shaver quickly swept the conversation away to junior city manager Tim Burchfield.  He stated that city employees are prepared, on a minute’s notice during the day, to barricade access to any of the obelisks in the Plaza and that the police department was prepared if they were needed.

It would have been nice if Shaver had picked up the ball and moved it down the field, Horvath in tow, since there might have been a third at the table who could be convinced to reopen the issue for further discussion.  We’ll never know now.

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