By Dave Russell
Some call him “Sentinel Sam,” some call him “Sylva Sam.” Sylva town board member David Nestler used the moniker “nuisance” at last Thursday’s board meeting when referring to the Confederate monument on the Courthouse steps.
“When you declare something a nuisance, the property owner has an opportunity to abate that nuisance, and that’s really what declaring something a nuisance does. It’s an attempt for the problem to be remedied,” he said.
The monument meets the definition of a nuisance since threats and assaults are occurring, he said.
“It’s creating quite a bit of community upheaval and it is getting dangerous, so my point was to not let the county drop the ball on taking the safety issue seriously,” he said.
The town board on July 27 voted 3-2 on a resolution asking the county to remove the statue of the Confederate soldier on the old Courthouse steps overlooking Sylva. Their county counterparts voted 4-1 on Aug. 4 to keep the monument in place, but modify it by removing a bas relief Confederate battle flag and adding a plaque with verbiage about the war.
“I think they are required to make a good faith effort to abate the nuisance when something is declared a nuisance,” Nestler said. “I think it can be argued at this point that they have. They have fenced it off and blocked it off and put cones up and they have officers guarding it 24/7. So I think at this point it is probably unnecessary to declare it a nuisance because they have taken steps to abate it.”
Should assaults and threats continue, the town board should revisit it, he said.
“For now, I am fine tabling the resolution,” he said. “If we continue to see it as a safety problem, I think we revisit it at that point.”
Mayor Lynda Sossamon suggested the board officially “take no action,” as tabling the resolution would mean it could not come before the board for another year.
“Then I would advise we take no action at this point,” Nestler said.
The county does a lot for the town, board member Barbara Hamilton said.
“Is anybody suggesting we might try to sue the county over this?” she asked. “Because I think they are trying to compromise with us and I want us to have a good working relationship with the county because we depend on each other on so many things. I am glad we are just going to wait on it at this point.”
Hamilton has a son who was in the U.S. Marine Corps and said she has thought many times about the mothers who wanted the statue as a memorial.
“I’m sorry they put too many things about the Confederacy on it, but if my son had died, I would want a memorial for him,” she said. “I don’t look at it as so bad. The mothers wanted is as a memorial, somehow it got more towards the Confederacy. I take it really, really seriously as a memorial.”
Board member Ben Guiney wants to know the county’s plan for the statue. He proposed having acting town Manager Mike Morgan request the county inform the town of the statue’s future.
“I would like to request in the meantime, until they figure out what is going on with the plaque, that they agree to immediately cover up the Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, and ‘Our heroes of the Confederacy,’” he said. “I don’t care if it is cardboard or whatever, because that is what they agreed to do and they have taken no action up until this time. This is in the town of Sylva, and we are the ones who are kind of stuck with the repercussions of it.”
He directed Morgan to request a covering for the Confederate symbols.
Sossamon urged patience.
“I would just like to say that we need to have faith in the commissioners of Jackson County that they are going to do what they said and give them the time to do it correctly,” she said. “Mr. Morgan can check with the county manager and see what that time frame is to get those things done, because they have said that they are going to do that. It shouldn’t take a long time.”
Nestler agreed with Guiney.
“I think it is reasonable for the town of Sylva to ask them to put a temporary covering over it,” he said.
Board member Greg McPherson said he would encourage the county to reach out to community members for input on the changes to the monument.
“Since we are talking so much about diversity in our community, I think this is the perfect opportunity for the county to reach out to some people of different backgrounds to get some input about what that is going to say,” he said.
Morgan had not had any email conversations with the county as of Monday morning, he said.