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City holds off on monument decision

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Chiefland commissioners are keeping their hands out of the fire – for now, informally dropping the issue Monday night of creating an application for monument placement at City Hall.

“I say leave it. Just let it be,” Mayor Teal Pomeroy said after a discussion regarding potential legal ramifications stemming from such a placement.

An ordinance establishing guidelines for proposed monuments, such as the Ten Commandments that was once at City Hall, was approved weeks ago. It requires that monuments show historical significance with regard to the creation of government at the local, state or federal level – among other things – and, in short, creates a sort of “free speech” zone in front of City Hall.

Many in the community have expressed hopes that the Ten Commandments, which departed City Hall in 2012, would return some day. And although there have been no official claims that it would, the new ordinance was designed to help better protect the city in the event of a lawsuit, should such a monument find its way to City Hall.

But commissioners have been nitpicking a proposed city application that would be furnished to would-be donators of future monuments, mainly expressing concern that the application’s requirement for $1 million in liability insurance would prevent some from being able to afford such a donation.

And Chiefland officials have also been watching how a similar application is being handled by the county, which has its own Ten Commandments monument. The Williston Atheists group wants to place a monument of its own next to the Ten Commandments at the county courthouse. The application was denied on a technicality, though group members say they plan to file another application.

City Attorney Norm Fugate said Monday to commissioners that it’s likely the county will find itself in a lawsuit should the application be denied again.

Chiefland officials, he said, have to decide if they’re willing to deal with the same sort of scenario in the future.

“That’s been my point all along: When you set up a monument display, you have to be very careful that it’s not content based,” Fugate said, explaining that lawsuits are more likely where one mode of free speech is honored, while another is not.

Pomeroy suggested leaving the issue alone until it becomes certain that there is a monument being proposed for placement at City Hall.

“If someone wants to place a monument there, we’ll deal with it then.”

Fugate said the city’s guidelines state that a monument donor must submit an application, but those guidelines don’t state that the city has to provide that application.

 

In other matters:

*Commissioners unanimously approved including a new tract of land into the city’s rotation of sludge fields, bringing the tally to three fields that will be alternated for use in processing dry sewage matter.

Earl and Carolyn Lane, who live just outside of city limits next to the new location, protested at the last commission meeting two weeks ago, saying the sludge would be a nuisance and potential health threat.

City officials say the permit to use the field was recently approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

 

*Commissioners unanimously approved allowing city staff to pursue a grant that would pay for a recreational trail at Buie Park.

The grant, according to staff, requires a 20 percent match, which can be paid through in-kind services such as the administrative work done by city employees. Matching 40 percent, however,  would earn the city more points during the selection process, staff said.

The grant, which can be up to $200,000, would be a good way to allow better access to and around the park, according to City Commissioner Betty Walker. People in wheelchairs, especially, would be able to take advantage of such a trail, which would be paved, Walker said.

Staff said it would return to the commission on the issue of what percentage to match.