By Leon Meyer
MSGT, USAF, Retired
Organizers of Piedmont Area Veterans Association have officially withdrawn any requests for assistance from the City of Piedmont. This decision was made after the organizers appeared at two city council meetings and met with the city staff on numerous occasions and received no support for the Veterans Center.
The history of the endeavor is fraught with character attacks, false rumors, and council pressure on the city staff to raise numerous roadblocks. In the beginning the organizers had a dream to honor all veterans by construction of a building strictly for veterans. It would contain a military library, museum, and a meeting area for meetings and counseling. Initially it was thought to be a good project for the Historical Society as the organizers would raise all the funds for the building. After several meetings with the Board of Directors, it was clear that an agreement could not be reached.
Meetings were held to decide what direction the project would take. At that point Phil and Cindy Boevers offered to donate a building site on Edmond Road. A survey was obtained, and it was discovered that the site would be too small under City ordinances, lacking 5 feet in width, 70′ instead of 75′. The veterans took the survey to the city staff and understood there should be no problem with the site. Immediately rumor started that somehow Boevers would benefit from the building, which was totally false.
The veterans submitted a request to the city council to waive all hook up and inspection fees. Ken Dickerson, who was chairman of the construction committee for the Historical Society when the Annex was built, had previously worked with City Attorney David Davis, the City Manager, and Mayor Mike Fina to waive these fees for the Historical Society, and the Council approved the waiver. In waiving the fees the attorneys used the same language that was used in the Williams contract in which all the fees were waived. However, the request to the present Council met with opposition, and no action was taken. At the next Council meeting the subject came up again, and the veterans who appeared at the meeting were met with character assassinations by several council members. One councilman, for instance, called the veterans “deceitful.” Other than Councilman Coffman, no public official, including the mayor and city staff, spoke on behalf of the veterans.
Since the building site was 5′ less in width than required by Ordinance, the veterans group, at the suggestion of city staff and City Attorney, filed for a variance of the 5′ with the Board of Adjustment. Other items in the application were worked out so that the only issue remaining was the 5′. After a meeting with the Community Development Director Wade Harden, the veterans thought several issues were resolved.
At that meeting it was discovered that Harden had given a copy of the application to Ben Felder of the Citizen newspaper, although the application was private until officially heard.
Further, Mr. Harden admitted that several council members had talked to him about the application and let him know that they were against the Application. Apparently they also talked to Dr. States, who was on the Board of Adjustment, because she resigned from the Board, stating she had clients on both sides of the issue.
After this happened we thought about whether we wanted to continue with the fight. We finally decided that with no support from city officials, the project in its present form would not work. Despite more than sixty years of military service by three of the organizers, who were also on the Committee that brought the Vietnam Wall to Piedmont, the council and staff gave no credence to the veterans or the project. One of the military retirees had been responsible for organizing the July 4th celebration for several years. Ben Felder of the Citizen newspaper, in his opposition to the project, said that the project should be opposed because the veterans were “a select few.” Perhaps Felder should check on that with the Air Force and Navy.
It is also ironic and puzzling that three of the public officials had told a veteran that they supported this project, but they did not express their support at the public meeting. In fact, two of them voiced opposition.
We will continue to work with the donors and other supporters to find a solution to honor the veterans in the Piedmont area, apparently without the city council and city staff support.