Rules for new memorials in Macon parks draw grumbles

A request from friends of Lauren Giddings, the Mercer University law student killed in June 2011, to place a memorial bench in Washington Park led to unexpected debate among Macon City Council members. Now Councilman Frank Tompkins’ attempt to prevent such acrimony in the future is drawing dissent from the same sources.

At Monday’s meeting of the council’s Ordinances & Resolutions Committee, both the resolution to allow the bench and Tompkins’ proposed rules for future monuments made it onto the agenda for Tuesday night’s full City Council.

When the bench for Giddings was proposed in July, Council President James Timley spoke up to oppose it, predicting that it would lead to requests for similar monuments to everyone slain in Macon, past and future, filling city parks with benches and plaques. Councilwoman Lauren Benedict, sponsor of the resolution for Giddings’ memorial bench, noted that Giddings’ friends have agreed to pay all the costs.

Now Tompkins has proposed a resolution to set procedures for “monuments, memorials, public art and like donations for city parks and open spaces.”

No such policies currently exist, Tompkins said. But Councilman Rick Hutto said the city set similar rules five or six years ago governing the naming of bridges and streets.

Tompkins’ resolution lays out general standards, to be administered by the directors of the Central Services and Public Works departments. It would allow monuments, artworks, playground equipment, benches and tables, plaques, landscaping and other items.

But what drew Timley’s ire Monday were the acceptance criteria, specifically that a monument had to be for someone who had “greatly impacted his/her family and/or community as a whole.”

“Now, whose death is not going to impact their family?” he said. “That’s no different from what we have now.”

Even a dog could qualify, Timley said, rendering the rules meaningless.

He sought to limit authorization of any public memorial to people who impacted the city of Macon, but his attempt died for lack of a second. A language change by Councilman Henry Ficklin, which essentially would have had the same effect as Timley’s proposal, also failed.

Other council members spoke up to deny that the standards would result in local parks being overrun with memorials. Councilwoman Lauren Benedict said she would welcome proposals for more benches, artworks and other amenities, which parks badly need.

Roasted flap

Roasted Cafe & Lounge appealed Monday to the Macon City Council’s Public Properties Committee, seeking to overturn a rejection of the cafe’s design for a metal fence on the Second Street sidewalk. But that request got booted back a day because no one from the other side -- the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority -- was on hand.

“Do I understand correctly that the UDA was not notified of this meeting?” Committee Chairman Rick Hutto said.

Sam Henderson, executive assistant to Mayor Robert Reichert, said UDA Executive Director Alex Morrison was out of town, and the administration didn’t try to reach anyone else from the authority.

“Do you realize Ms. Schiermeister came in from California for this?” Hutto said.

Betty Schiermiester, owner of the building that Roasted occupies, sent the committee a letter of appeal after the UDA rejected her latest proposal for a metal-railing fence with a 1-foot-wide granite top to hold planters.

Roasted and the UDA have wrangled for several months over the cafe’s use of sidewalk seating and a wall to enclose those tables and chairs.

The UDA eventually renewed Roasted’s sidewalk-seating permit but has rejected several designs for the surrounding wall.

Roasted owner Nick Rizkalla put up a wooden wall that the UDA demanded be removed. The authority insisted instead on a metal wall that can be seen through, to match others in the downtown area.

Hutto noted that the permit dispute has now made its way into Municipal Court. Due to that and questions about whether the council’s Public Properties Committee was the appropriate venue for an appeal, he was reluctant to review Schiermeister’s letter; but the city attorney’s office told him it should be done, he said.

To get to the meeting, however, and discover that there was no one present from UDA to give the authority’s side is “extremely frustrating,” Hutto said.

He rescheduled the meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday to meet state Open Meetings requirements, and told Henderson to make sure Morrison or another UDA representative was invited.

Schiermiester said she herself couldn’t return Tuesday, but that Roasted owner Nick Rizkalla could.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.