Kenai Council tables contentious veteran’s monument resolution

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Saturday, April 5, 2014 10:03pm
  • News

A contentious resolution surrounding a Latin cross embedded in a veteran’s memorial on public land has been tabled indefinitely by the Kenai City Council.

After nearly an hour of discussion, the group voted to halt progress on a resolution affirming its support of the Veteran’s Memorial in Leif Hansen Memorial Park at its meeting Wednesday.

At the March 19 council meeting, veterans packed the council chambers and many voicing their desire to see the memorial be left alone, after concerns circulated that the council had considered moving the monument because of the cross.

Council member Tim Navarre sponsored the resolution, which reads, “The city council of Kenai supports veterans and respects the public testimony presented by the veterans that spoke in support of the veteran’s memorial.”

He said he wanted to show support for the veterans who “spoke from the heart.” He said when he looks at the war memorial he doesn’t see it as a religious symbol.

“I see a soldier kneeling paying respect to another soldier who died,” he said. “People who look at the monument and see religion will make their point to you. The fact that it is called a veteran’s memorial – it is what it is.”

The council voted 5-3 to table the resolution, with council members Terry Bookey, Mike Boyle, Ryan Marquis and Robert Molloy and student representative Courney Stroh voting yes. Mayor Pat Porter, council members Brian Gabriel and Navarre were against the motion to postpone the resolution indefinitely. Boyle, a Vietnam Veteran, motioned to table the resolution indefinitely.

Council member Terry Bookey began the discussion by asking city attorney Scott Bloom what legal action could come as a result of the council approving the resolution.

Bloom said in his opinion, if the city was sued for having a cross design in a public park, they would most likely lose litigation, based on the recent ruling made in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

In February a California federal judge rejected a proposed memorial which was to be built on public property. It depicted a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross, violated federal and state laws. The court ruled the monument unconstitutional for endorsing religion and ruled in favor of the American Humanist Association, who filed the lawsuit, according to a Feb. 27 story from the Religious News Service.

When the design was presented to the Lake Elsinore city council for review, some residents objected to the memorial because it had religious symbols, while some city council members supported it.

Bloom said with these types of cases a judge’s ruling on the constitutionality is anyone’s guess. The wording in the resolution about supporting the veterans and respect for their testimony in support of the memorial could be interpreted in choosing a side, he said. If the city remains neutral on the topic, they would not be viewed as endorsing a religion.

“Some risk (voting for or against the resolution) would promote or antagonize,” he said.

The Kenai city council received two letters on the issue. One from the American Center for Law and Justice, which urged the city to continue to display the veteran’s memorial, siding with the artist Scott Hamman, “who intended the cross as a grave marker, not a Christian icon,” read the letter signed by Erik Zimmerman, the senior associate on the council of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Another letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, asked the city to remove the Latin cross from the veteran’s memorial and requested a response to the letter within 30 days.

Bloom said he would not respond to the letter without direction from council.

Molloy said the city is stuck between a rock and a hard place on the memorial issue. He said while he respects the veterans’ support for the monument, besides the words, “Never Forgotten” engraved on it, there is not identification to say the statue is a veteran’s memorial.

Shortly after the monument was installed last summer, council member Marquis said he responded to a citizen’s concern that the image on the monument resembled the one in California. Marquis and Bookey asked city administration and Bloom to investigate the if the potential of a lawsuit could happen to the City of Kenai.

Marquis said he wished the city paid more attention before the monument was installed. While he said he respected the veteran’s testimony wholeheartedly, he never asked for the monument to be removed and feels the veterans have been misled.

“This issue has created a division in the community and it is not healthy,” he said.

Bookey said he has endured a lot of criticism for his response to citizen requests.

“I have been threatened and ridiculed and my moral beliefs have been called into question,” he said. “I am looking out for the best interest in the city even if it doesn’t align with my own beliefs. This is a business decision, not personal.”

Porter said she would have supported the resolution and wants to see the veteran’s memorial stay where it is.

“I might have to make another decision legally if we were forced to,” she said. “I’m not afraid of being threatened. You still have the potential lawsuits either way, the monument is still there. It could go either way no matter what we did here tonight.”

Bob Myles, a Kenai resident and member of the National Veterans of Foreign Wars Committee, said he would like to see the council make a decision one way or another.

“I believe (council) side-stepped the issue in a cowardly way,” he said. “I thought (Navarre) did a fantastic job with the resolution. The issue is not going to go away.”

Myles, who spoke to the council at the March 19 meeting, said the public have spoken overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the monument where it is and if the council would not take a stand, they can be voted out.

“The council needs to remember that veteran’s vote and elections are coming up,” he said. Why keep them in position if they do not support the citizens it is time for a change in council. If you don’t agree with somebody we can vote them out of office.”

 

Reach Dan Balmer at dan.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

More in News

Alaska Rep. David Eastman, a Republican from Wasilla, sits at his desk on the Alaska House floor in Juneau, Alaska, on March 5, 2020. Alaska lawmakers are discussing whether to sanction Eastman who is also a member of the Oath Keepers far-right paramilitary organization according to the Anchorage Daily News. Eastman, who is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, confirmed with the Associated Press, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, that he joined the Oath Keepers a little over 12 years ago, “along with 38,000 others who have committed to honoring oaths we have taken.” (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)
State lawmaker could be sanctioned over Oath Keeper ties

Eastman was identified as a “life member” of the Oath Keepers last year

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
As cases surge, public health officials contemplate how to live with virus

Contact tracing and data collection will have to be reworked if COVID is here to stay

Upper Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone can be seen on this map provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Image via fisheries.noaa.gov)
Soldotna approves filing of EEZ lawsuit brief

The lawsuit seeks to reopen commercial salmon fishing in the Upper Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone

University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney, bottom left, spoke to UA students in a virtual forum on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, and was joined by several UA administrators including UA Southeast President Karen Carey, bottom left, and UA Anchorage Vice Chancellor Bruce Schultz, top left. At top right, an American Sign Language professional provides translation services. (Screenshot)
UA President: University has turned a corner on funding

System sees modest increase in budget for first time in years

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, spoke to reporters Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, immediately following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address. Members of the Senate Republican leadership said they appreciated the governor’s optimism, and hoped it signaled a better relationship between the administration and the Legislature. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Lawmakers welcome tone change in governor’s address

With caveats on financials, legislators optimistic about working together

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID deaths, hospitalizations climb statewide

The total number of statewide COVID deaths is nearly equivalent to the population of Funny River.

A fisher holds a reel on the Kenai River near Soldotna on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Restrictions on sport fishing announced

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced summer sport fishing regulations Wednesday

Community agencies administer social services to those in need during the Project Homeless Connect event Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘It’s nice to be able to help folks’

Project Homeless Connect offers services, supplies to those experiencing housing instability

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce attends the March 2, 2021, borough assembly meeting at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former talk-show host to manage Pierce gubernatorial campaign

Jake Thompson is a former host of KSRM’s Tall, Dark and Handsome Show and Sound-off talk-show

Most Read