Auburn changing how it allows big monuments on City property

Auburn's leaders continue to hammer out the details of an ordinance they say will strengthen the City's hand dealing with requests to place large monuments on City property.

City officials were recently surprised to find out in the midst of debate about the joint American/Vietnamese memorial proposed for Veterans Memorial Park that they had no process in place to deal with applications for larger monuments, other than to send the requests along to the Parks Commission.

At that point, they decided that purview should be with the City Council alone.

Recently, members of the Municipal Services Committee stripped language from the proposed ordinance, taking the mayor completely out of the decision-making process but leaving him or her with administrative tasks.

"The mayor specifically does not want to have control of the process, and all those sections were taken out," said Mayor Pete Lewis.

Committee members also cut language that would have restricted council purview strictly to outdoor monuments and expanded it to include indoor monuments.

"You could have a monument in City Hall or in another building that somebody wants to build, and so we scratched that as well," Lewis said.

And where the original language would have created an individual approval process for each application, the new language creates a comprehensive approval process, said City Attorney Dan Heid.

Heid said the rules will also give the City final say about the message the monument delivers.

"Everybody knows what free speech is, but there are times when, specifically with City property, the City Council gets to decide what the statement is, what the message is," Heid said.

Heid cited a case in Washington, D.C., where an animal rights group proposed a monument in connection with a park proposal, which would have shown crying circus elephants, a different message from the happy monument proposal the City had in mind for its park. When the City said no, the animal rights group sued, but a court found that "the City gets to decide what the message is" for monuments on its property.

"That's what we wanted to do, that's the reason this turned into an ordinance, because if we are going to be more comprehensive than just one at a time, then we need to make sure we have the criteria so we can say that it is or is not within the scope of City speech," Heid said.

Auburn Parks policy has had plenty to say about City property vis-a-vis memorial trees, about commemorative plaques on benches, about stones, even about doggie poop bag dispensers ... the sorts of things people donate on behalf of a person or cause in which they believe.

But as for larger monuments, memorials, even big art pieces and what their proponents have to do to get larger structures such as those approved for placement on City property, Auburn's books up today say nothing.

While the backdrop is obviously the continuing debate over whether a Joint American/South Vietnamese Memorial should be built in Veterans Memorial Park, a stone's throw from the existing memorial, City officials are adamant that proposed ordinance is not about that issue.

"My concern," said committee chair Bill Peloza, a member of VFW 1741, which opposes placement of the joint memorial there,"is we have a very contentious situation regarding monuments —"

"But that doesn't have anything to do with this," Lewis said. "I am not going to put those two together. This came out of a whole different discussion."

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