Bell Tower Green advisory board filled; flag will be first item discussed

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022

SALISBURY — After a public comment session in which nine people spoke, all in favor of adding an American flag to Bell Tower Green, Salisbury City Council member Harry McLaughlin advised the council that the at-large seats on the new park advisory board have been filled, and a first meeting of the panel has been scheduled.

The request to put a flag in the park will likely be one of the first items the committee will address.

The creation of the advisory committee was a requirement from the Bell Tower Green Inc., which founded the park, before it would donate the park to the city. In addition, part of the agreement was that any changes to the park would have to receive consent from both the city and the original board, with the express notation that any changes within reason could not be denied by either party.

McLaughlin was appointed at the last council meeting as the liaison between the council and the new advisory committee, with no voting rights, but the responsibility of sharing information between the groups.

He brought the full slate of the new board, including three at-large seats and four seats filled by members of the original BTG Inc. board, to the council, which immediately adopted it.

“I want to thank the community, first of all, for the overwhelming number of applications,” said McLaughlin. “We had over 30 people apply, and that was wonderful.” Once the council approved the slate, he announced that the new board will hold its first meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 2 p.m. “That is the earliest they could meet and still meet the notification requirements,” he added.

And both council member Anthony Smith and Mayor Karen Alexander asked if consideration of the request to install a flag at the park could be a top priority, which McLaughlin said he would encourage.

“I know the first thing they will need to do is establish bylaws, figure out how things will be decided,” said Alexander, “but I do hope they will take this up quickly.”

Just like every other committee under the council, the panel will take up any requested changes or additions, any safety issues or repairs that need to be addressed, consider the issue, then make a recommendation to the council, which will then decide whether or not to follow the recommendations, according to city attorney Graham Corriher.

“That means a huge amount of public opinion and feedback will go into every decision,” said Alexander. “Not only on this one request we have gotten from veterans, but on any request that goes through this committee.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, a number of residents stood to speak in favor of adding the flag to the park, most veterans, but not all.

Janice Smith is married to veteran and local activist Ronnie Smith, who has spearheaded the effort to have the flag installed, and she recited the poem “Old Glory.”

Michael Chapman, whose brother Chris was killed in Desert Storm in 1991, said, “I’m not a veteran, but these are my brothers and sisters. I believe this flag is important, not just for veterans but for those who have actually given their lives. We are losing our patriotic spirit and we must regain it.”

Randy Lassiter added that he is “fully in support of the Bell Tower Green Advisory Committee,” and has been both pleased and surprised by the wide variety of people who use the park every day.

“But in my opinion, the question of the flag has absolutely nothing to do with the cost, or politics, or even veterans,” he said. “It has to do with not erecting it. It’s a bad message if we do not put one up.”

Corriher said there is nothing in the agreement between the city and Bell Tower Green Inc. that says a flag won’t be at the park, and Alexander said in conversations with at least two members who now sit on the advisory committee, minds are open.

“I understand sometimes it can be hard to wait when something is important,” she said, “but there is a process that we have to follow. We are following it, and we have made great progress tonight. I believe we have seen a successful playing out of our government process today.”