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Commission to tweak monument rules

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Although a new ordinance allowing for the placement of monuments at Chiefland City Hall has already been passed, commissioners are saying they have issues with some of the requirements listed in the application process for such monuments.

An ordinance change was brought up last year when a 6-ton slab of granite etched with the Ten Commandments and the phrase "Love God and keep his commandments" in front of City Hall went on a tour of the state. 

The owner of the monument, businessman Joe Anderson, said in a letter to the city that the monument was being removed in order to share its historical significance, though the removal also came not long after the city had been hit with a public records request from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU, at that time, was involved in a lawsuit against Dixie County, which had a similar monument, also owned by Anderson, by the entrance to the Dixie County Courthouse.

But Chiefland officials changed the requirements for placing a monument, creating, in essence, a forum on City Hall grounds for free speech displays. The changes could allow for the return of the monument with less threat of a legal challenge, though the "free speech" aspect also allows for other monuments, as long as they can show historical significance.

The city's ordinance, in part, was modeled on Bradford County's ordinance that was updated last year after an atheist group sued and won the right to place its own monument near a commandments monument at the Bradford County Courthouse.

Chiefland's new ordinance could, potentially, open the door for the same scenario.

And at least one group, according to Mayor Teal Pomeroy, has said it wants to place a monument at City Hall.

"We've had a veterans' group express interest in putting a monument there," Pomeroy said. But there's a problem: The group can't afford the $2 million in general liability insurance listed as a requirement in the application, the mayor said. 

City Attorney Norm Fugate said the insurance was important in case a legal challenge came up, making the donator of the monument, rather than the city, responsible for defending the challenge.

"Does that make any sense?" Fugate asked.

"It does," Pomeroy said, but, he added, it might keep some organizations or interested parties from being able to place a monument at City Hall.

"Realistically, the only group that would have enough money to do that would be, like, the ACLU, or somebody spiteful like that ...."

Vice Mayor Teresa Barron suggested dropping the liability requirement to $300,000. She also said it might be possible for certain entities, as in the case of a veterans' group, to add the insurance onto whatever liability costs they already pay for their facilities and properties.

Dr. Bob Mount, a Chiefland dentist, said he thought local community groups would come together to help pay the insurance for a veterans' monument.

"You're talking year in, year out," Pomeroy said.

"I know," Mount responded, reiterating his feeling that it would be taken care of.

Another issue associated with the application, according to Barron, has to do with wording associated with approved changes that might need to be made to potential monuments. Fugate said language could be added that clarified that a change could be made, as long as both parties were in a agreement.

Commissioners agreed the application needed to be "tweaked" before it was approved.