LOUISBURG -- The town council carefully made its way through a long agenda of assorted issues Monday night -- but it was the recent controversy over its decision to move the Confederate monument away from North Main Street that sparked most of the comments from the public.
Nearly 50 people showed up for the in-person meeting that was held at the town's Operations Center -- and each person had to pass a temperature check, use disinfectant on their hands and wear a mask during the meeting.
And, of course, both the audience and the board were socially distanced in the meeting room which is much larger than the council's normal chambers in town hall.
During the time allotted for the public to speak, about half the comments were against the council's decision to move the monument while about as many people supported the decision.
Those who wanted to keep the monument at its former location in the middle of North Main Street near the Louisburg College campus said the Confederate soldier's statue atop the monument was a tribute to the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy and should be honored as veterans.
Those in favor of moving the monument called it racist and said it was time for the monument to be moved, with most supporting the council's plans to re-install the monument in Oakwood Cemetery near the graves of some Confederate veterans.
North Main Street resident Bobby Cooper said the decision to move the monument came during an "illegal" council meeting and was against both state law and local regulations that should have protected the monument and its location.
He also called the decision "rule by fiat" and suggested it represented "uncontrolled spending" of money that was not in the current budget. (Town officials have estimated that moving the monument will cost in the range of $60,000.)
Also questioning the cost of moving the monument was Chad Phelps, the local commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
He said the move disrespects all veterans. "This is no different from the veterans of the Viet Nam War," he said. "They were called to fight" and they responded to that call.
"Would you want Viet Nam veterans to be forgotten?" he asked.
Phelps also told the council that the Sons of Confederate Veterans would not provide any financial support to help move the monument. "You won't get a dime" from us, he said. "You'll have to come up with the money."
But Kim Baker, a North Main Street resident, took a different approach, saying she supported moving the monument and told Phelps that he "did not speak for all veterans."
She said some of her ancestors fought for the Confederacy and are buried here yet she still believed the monument should be moved.
Stephon Bryant of Sims Bridge Road said the statue "represents division" although he said some may say it is heritage.
"Our society is changing," he said, noting that more than 5,600 people have signed a petition asking that the monument be moved.
The cemetery would be a reasonable place to locate the statue, he continued. "You can pay your respects there, just not in the middle of North Main Street."
Judy Clemmons of Dunston Circle told the council that those asking for the monument to be moved "want to treat people right.
"It represents slavery," she said, and the support of it "indicates a person is okay with slavery."
Paula Waters of Sunset Avenue sent a letter to be read to the council because she refused to wear a mask to the meeting.
"The manner in which the town and police have handled the monument issue -- as well as the protestors -- has been absolutely shameful," she wrote.
She said that town leaders were "guilty of acting behind closed doors in illegal ways" and urged the town to "make public everything it has been discussing" about the monument.
Waters said the statue should be returned and said the "town has acted in bad faith."
She also said the issue is "indicative of the corrupt leadership being exhibited."
During the meeting, Mayor Karl Pernell reminded everyone that the council has voted to move the monument and those plans are ongoing, although there is a court case pending that could stop the move.
In the meantime, the town has had a company using ground-penetrating radar to check possible sites in Oakwood Cemetery to be sure there are no unmarked graves in areas where the monument could be relocated.
Several graves have been discovered but there is enough undisturbed area to relocate the monument, according to the company doing the study.
In addition, town administrator Jonathan Franklin told the council that Chad Dickerson of New York, the author of a recent letter to the editor in The Franklin Times, originally pledged $10,000 to help defray the cost of moving the monument.
After discussing the project with him, Franklin said Dickerson has upped his pledge to $15,000, leaving the town to raise about $45,000 to complete the move.
Wrapping up the monument discussion Monday night, the council approved a motion to relocate the monument to Oakwood Cemetery and ratified its action of June 22 to relocate the monument.
In other action Monday night, the council:
•Approved an amendment to the town's zoning ordinance establishing definitions for manufactured homes and determination of district allowances. No one spoke against this change.
•Approved an amendment to the town's zoning ordinance requiring curb and gutter for all new streets created by a subdivision. Again, no one spoke against the changes.
•Got a clean financial report from Dale Place, CPA, who audited last fiscal year's books and found a few mistakes, most of which have already been corrected or are being corrected, he said.
•Hired Municipal Engineering Services for the Bullock Drive water line project.
•Named Jaeco consulting engineers of Raleigh to develop the West College Street realignment project although Franklin said the town does not have the money at the moment to actually begin that project although this work will ensure that the plans are ready when money becomes available.
•Gave Franklin the authority to hire firms for architectural, engineering, surveying and construction management and design-build services without council approval as long as the cost does not exceed $50,000.
•Approved a real estate listing agreement for the new industrial park along T. Kemp Road with Brassfield Commercial Realty. The agreement expires on July 1, 2020.
•Learned that, although the Greenhill sewer pumping station received "good marks" from the state, it is currently eligible for only a 50 percent grant or about $500,000. Franklin said the town declined that offer and will "sharpen" its application in the hopes of getting a 75 percent grant in the next round of funding.
•Agreed to consider purchasing the house at 101 Elm Street in downtown and later set a special meeting for noon on July 27 to further consider that project.