Bell Tower Green advisory board appointed, flag request will be priority

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 18, 2022

SALISBURY — All seven seats on a Bell Tower Green advisory board have been filled, the board has been certified by the city council, a first meeting date has been fixed and Mayor Karen Alexander has requested that the board make the request to add an American flag to the park be given priority.

At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, seven people were identified as the members of the newly created advisory committee, four who are members of Bell Tower Green, Inc, the original board that created the park, and three who are from the community at large. Those who are on BTG, Inc. include Ellis Tellez, Dyke Messinger, Bill Wagoner, and Meredith Abramson. The three at-large members are Melissa Graham, Alvaro Rosero and Jill Debose.

The selections were presented by council member Harry McLaughlin, who was appointed the council liaison between the new board and the council at the city’s last meeting. He said the committee’s first meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 2 p.m., which is as soon as legally possible due to notice requirements. He said he was also delighted by the response to the city’s calls for volunteers to serve on the board.

“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.”

Alexander and council member Anthony Smith both asked McLaughlin to encourage the new board to take up a request from local veterans, made about a year ago, to add a flag to the park, as a priority.

“I know they’ll have to decide how they are going to make decisions, set up by-laws, all of that,” said Alexander, “but I do want to ask that they make this a top priority.”

Veterans attended the most recent council meeting to question the council about why they had not taken any action on adding a flag to the park, a request that has never been denied, but also never been acted on.

Alexander explained that when the park was created, a group of those initially involved made up a committee called Bell Tower Green, Inc. that was an oversight and management board. When the owners agreed to give the park to the city, both organizations signed an agreement that called for the creation of an advisory board that would, at all times, have three members from the general community.

Part of that agreement also states “future circumstances may require or make it prudent to make changes to park facilities or amenities. Such changes are allowed under this agreement with the written consent of the parties, such consent not to be unreasonably withheld, so long as they quality and aesthetic of the park are maintained.”

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.”

Portions of this story appeared in Wednesday’s e-edition.