The Colville City Council chambers turned into an ideological battleground last Tuesday as community memÂ¬bers volleyed back and forth during a public comment peÂ¬riod.
The issue at hand was whether or not a trio of local residents should be allowed to turn the â€śCâ€ť into a peace sign on Colville Mountain for Earth Day. The author of the proÂ¬posal, Peter Quinn, withdrew his proposal, saying he â€śdidnâ€™t mean to offend anyone,â€ť and that his desire to construct the temporary peace sign was not politically motivated.
The proposal, written and presented to council on March 27 by Quinn, requested that the city allow the men to use three rolls of Tyvek building paper to create the peace sign on April 21 and leave it up all day on Earth Day, April 22. Quinn said he would return on Monday, April 23 to clear the Tyvek away. He said he would also make repairs to the â€śCâ€ť by installing more white rock and hand raking around the area.
Opponents of the proposal maintained throughout the public comment portion of the meeting that the peace signâ€™s history is a controversial one that symbolized communism, Marxism, and even the anti-Christ.
County chimes in
Colville City Attorney CharÂ¬lie Schuerman advised mayor Deborah Rarrick and council to reject the proposal on the grounds that the city could open itself up to potential litiÂ¬gation from civil rights groups concerning the erection of a political symbol on city propÂ¬erty. He also noted that the city does not have a policy in place to address potential inÂ¬juries sustained by individuÂ¬als volunteering for the city.
The Stevens County ComÂ¬missioners, in a rare instance, also chimed in via CommisÂ¬sioner Malcolm Friedman, who presented a letter to council.
â€śWe rarely have reason to be involved in city matters, but our office received numerous calls and emails regarding this issue, and we felt it was necessary to address it,â€ť said Friedman. â€śWe would ask that the mayor and the council refuse this request in the inÂ¬terest of not making political statements on public property a precedent in our commuÂ¬nity.â€ť
John Smith said he was opÂ¬posed to using city funds to assist with the placement of any political or religious symÂ¬bol on city property. He cited when vandals burned down the cross that stood on Colville Mountain several decÂ¬ades ago. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit if the cross, a religious icon, was resurrected on city ground. A local landowner opted to have the cross rebuilt on private property, with doÂ¬nations from individuals and local charitable organizations.
Though no city funds were requested for the â€śpeace sign projectâ€ť in Quinnâ€™s proposal, Quinn later said after the meeting that he â€śhad no deÂ¬sire to spend my own money or energy on something that people are going to take the wrong way.
â€śI really didnâ€™t mean to hurt anybodyâ€™s feelÂ¬ings or tell them that their beÂ¬liefs donâ€™t matter. I honestly had no idea this would make people so upset and angry.â€ť
Council member Nancy Foll attempted to compromise and suggested that the word â€śpeaceâ€ť be put in place of a peace sign, since â€śthe word has different connotations for everyone.â€ť
Since Quinn withdrew his proposal, the issue was dropped and council took no official action.