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Kenai Council tables contentious veteran's monument resolution

Posted: April 5, 2014 - 9:03pm  |  Updated: April 5, 2014 - 9:32pm

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.”


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santini 04/06/14 - 01:27 pm
Mr. Myles is entirely correct

Mr. Myles is entirely correct in his observation that this issue will not be going away. Another opportunity will present itself where the 'separation of church and state' people will press their issue. Not dealing with this as a community standards issue now will only embolden them.

I am not sure why Mr. Molloy does not understand that the inscription on the memorial hat says "Never Forgotten" is not related to veterans. That is a phrase that has gained wide popularity since we did forget our Viet am veterans in that unpopular war.

I am always far more interested in how or elected officials choose to react to issues like this. Some decide take the position that they may not agree with the protesters but want to 'protect' the city from law suits or 'unhealthy division' and so forth. As stated by one council member, it becomes a "business decision".

I prefer the position that Pat Porter takes. It is shows leadership, courage and far more morality than the others have shown.

Suss 04/06/14 - 08:26 pm
Start collecting donations

What is the going rate for taking a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court? Thank you folks for turning a rather pedestrian item into a somewhat overblown object that truly does not warrant the undue attention, or possible legal costs. The true attention and resources should be going directly to the Veterans in need. Last count was 22 veterans per day were committing suicide, that is probably under reported since the VA reports 950 suicide attempts per month. Do something for the living, hurting, dying members and never forget those that have passed on before them. To all the Vets that want to make this their battle, go fund the fight in court, then ask how you helped anyone live better, freer, stronger with money needed for Vets in harms way, right here and now. Do not use public tax dollars to fight a question of what is a public religious or not religious artwork. Even if one side prevails they are both wrong. The notoriety this piece has received is wasted, build your own monuments but do not claim your trying to benefit Veterans by getting silly over this particular artwork on publicly owned land.

A simple headstone silhouette tacked on and over a percieved offending cross would not be too difficult to envision.

There is nothing anyone can say about a blank headstone.

This is not a Veteran issue, this is a religious or nonreligious issue.

A real Veteran fought with and for all religious beliefs and nonbelievers alike. Bullets and bombs did not care what religion you did or did not believe in.

corinnep 04/08/14 - 05:39 pm
Smart Move to Table

Five City Council members showed that they are more interested in doing what is best for Kenai than in pandering to get votes. That took courage. Guess we know the answer to whether Tim Navarre is running again.

I checked on the Internet and couldn't find any such organization as the National Veterans of Foreign Wars Committee. Hopefully the real VFW avoids the kind of community-dividing campaign promoted by Scott Hammon and Bob Myles.

Raoulduke 04/10/14 - 05:47 pm
VFW Committee

Mr.Myles, I am a life member VFW,Life member DAV,and a member of the American Legion.I also did an Internet search as Corinnep,and did not find anything pertaining to a Veterans of Foreign Wars Committee.Could you give a phone number,or address of this group? This has perked up my interest.

Suss 04/10/14 - 09:36 pm
VFW Creds

Mr. Robert Myles is what he says he is. A Clarion cub reporter writes what he thinks he heard. Do not doubt the "National Committee" title. Page 13

Just because Google told you so, does not make it so.

Please consider apologizing.

Raoulduke 04/11/14 - 03:19 am

Suss! Once again. One should not believe all that has been written in this newspaper.The apology needs to come from the composer of the article for writing,and having printed misquotes.Which has misled more than myself to question.The editor needs to sit down with Mr.DAN BALMER. I am just a Nam Vet that takes pause about such questions.I will not question Mr.Myles position in the VFW again. I do say.SHAME on the REPORTER,and the CLARION

Suss 04/11/14 - 09:30 am

Critical listening skills are difficult to maintain in boring government meetings. The great part is the City of Kenai does a wonderful job recording both audio and video and the quality Is much better than Soldotna's which are garbled with paper shuffling on an open mic. Hint, keep the mic off unless speaking.

The word "committee" never came from Mr. Myles mouth.

Forgive the kid but listen carefully to your elders, some might not make it to the next meeting.

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