The Colville City Council chambers turned into an ideological battleground last Tuesday as community mem¬¨bers volleyed back and forth during a public comment pe¬¨riod.
The issue at hand was whether or not a trio of local residents should be allowed to turn the ‚ÄúC‚ÄĚ into a peace sign on Colville Mountain for Earth Day. The author of the pro¬¨posal, Peter Quinn, withdrew his proposal, saying he ‚Äúdidn‚Äôt mean to offend anyone,‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúC‚ÄĚ 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 sign‚Äôs history is a controversial one that symbolized communism, Marxism, and even the anti-Christ.
County chimes in
Colville City Attorney Char¬¨lie Schuerman advised mayor Deborah Rarrick and council to reject the proposal on the grounds that the city could open itself up to potential liti¬¨gation from civil rights groups concerning the erection of a political symbol on city prop¬¨erty. He also noted that the city does not have a policy in place to address potential in¬¨juries sustained by individu¬¨als volunteering for the city.
The Stevens County Com¬¨missioners, in a rare instance, also chimed in via Commis¬¨sioner Malcolm Friedman, who presented a letter to council.
‚ÄúWe 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,‚ÄĚ said Friedman. ‚ÄúWe would ask that the mayor and the council refuse this request in the in¬¨terest of not making political statements on public property a precedent in our commu¬¨nity.‚ÄĚ
John Smith said he was op¬¨posed to using city funds to assist with the placement of any political or religious sym¬¨bol on city property. He cited when vandals burned down the cross that stood on Colville Mountain several dec¬¨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 do¬¨nations from individuals and local charitable organizations.
Though no city funds were requested for the ‚Äúpeace sign project‚ÄĚ in Quinn‚Äôs proposal, Quinn later said after the meeting that he ‚Äúhad no de¬¨sire to spend my own money or energy on something that people are going to take the wrong way.
‚ÄúI really didn‚Äôt mean to hurt anybody‚Äôs feel¬¨ings or tell them that their be¬¨liefs don‚Äôt matter. I honestly had no idea this would make people so upset and angry.‚ÄĚ
Council member Nancy Foll attempted to compromise and suggested that the word ‚Äúpeace‚ÄĚ be put in place of a peace sign, since ‚Äúthe word has different connotations for everyone.‚ÄĚ
Since Quinn withdrew his proposal, the issue was dropped and council took no official action.