By Kathi Bliss
As summer festivals and tourism kick off in and around Caldwell County, the Courthouse lawn has become a primary focus of the Caldwell County Commissioners Court.
In recent weeks, the County has opted to remove a large pecan tree from the lawn, because disease has weakened the tree, and drawn questions as to whether or not it can continue to stand on its own. As work began on the tree, County Judge Tom Bonn saw an opportunity to form the stump into a monument to fallen Caldwell County veterans.
Although the idea itself was embraced by other members of the Court, the notion met with some resistance because of the nature of the proposed monument.
Bonn suggested last week that the existing stump of the tree should be cut into a cross, patterned after the majority of markers at National Cemeteries, and found a local artisan with the ability to carve the monument. However, questions as to the stability of such a monument, as well as the Constitutionality of having a cross on the Courthouse lawn, spawned concern.
“I’m all for doing anything we can to honor veterans,” said Commissioner John Cyrier, the chief opponent of the notion. “[In researching available markers at National Cemeteries]… there are 44 different religious symbols to choose from. The cross is immediately recognizable as a symbol of Christianity.”
Cyrier said he was concerned that creation of the monument in the form of a cross could put the County on the wrong side of the line between Church and State.
The County’s civil attorney, Mack Harrison, buoyed that concern, reminding the Commissioners that the Attorney General, as well as State and Federal Courts, have deemed the cross as undeniably a symbol of the Christian faith.
Bonn argued that a plaque to be installed on the site would explain the monument, therefore clarifying the County’s position on the matter, but Cyrier remained unconvinced.
“I’m not opposed to a monument… I’m not opposed to honoring our veterans in any way that we can,” he said. “I’m just worried that a cross might not be appropriate.”
In the alternative, Cyrier suggested, the County should perhaps plant a tree to replace the one being removed, and dedicate that to the fallen veterans. A newly-planted tree, he said, would serve the dual purpose of providing a permanent monument, and avoid any concerns of civil rights violations on the part of the County.
Commissioner Joe Roland, a career landscaper, said it would be impractical to plant another tree in that location, because of the other large trees in the immediate area.
County resident Art Larivee also expressed concern about the idea of carving the stump into a monument, because it was unclear how the monument would be maintained.
Ultimately, Bonn said, the point may be moot, because it is unknown at this time whether or not the stump would be too damaged to carved into a permanent monument, or whether it should be removed entirely.
The Commissioners agreed to table the initiative for one more week, in order to discuss plans for the monuments with voters, as well as to determine the state of the stump prior to the beginning of the work.
In a related item, Bonn also said he was concerned about damage done to the Courthouse lawn by booths and traffic generated during outdoor festivals on the Square. He asked the Commissioners to consider enacting a set of rules that would protect the lawn from damage.
Commissioner Neto Madrigal said he believes the Courthouse Lawn belongs to the citizens, and as such, the County should not limit use of the lawn; he maintained it is the County’s responsibility to maintain the lawn, and to take the steps to water and fertilize after festivals to revitalize the lawn. He also suggested an expert recently told the County they should have planted a type of grass that was more resistant to high traffic.
In brief news:
The Commissioners continued to discuss the installation of speed cushions on Meadow Lane in the Martindale area. The positions in which those cushions should be installed has not been determined, and talks with the neighborhood will continue.
County Engineer Bill Gardner said that when the speed cushions are installed, an existing speed bump which was installed without the knowledge or consent of the Court will be removed; warning signs created and installed by the neighborhood may be removed, as well. The Commissioners will likely not pursue remedies against the unidentified individual or individuals who installed the unauthorized speed bump, though Bonn expressed concern about the installation, calling the neighborhood’s decision to alter a county road without permission “vigilantism.”
The posted agenda did not include discussion of the upcoming fiscal year budget, which is proposed to include pay increases for elected officials and non-elected county employees. Those discussions are expected to begin later this summer.
The Caldwell County Commissioners routinely meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the training and conference room of the Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested residents are encouraged to attend.