A simple request to place a granite bench in downtown Mount Airy in memory of a longtime business owner there has triggered a debate on who should and shouldn’t be honored with such fixtures.
Although the city Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 last Thursday night in favor of a proposal at hand — a bench in observance of Bill Lamm, who died in December — a discussion accompanying that decision focused on larger issues involved.
“I have no problem with the bench,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said of plans to place it in Canteen Alley, a recently revamped site downtown not far from the location of Lamm Drug Co., a business started by Bill Lamm’s father in 1925. However, Brinkley questioned why a similar gesture was not allowed for Mount Airy’s first city manager.
The bench honoring Lamm will be installed at no expense to taxpayers, since the late pharmacist’s family has pledged to donate it for placement in the alleyway known for its restored Coca-Cola mural.
“Bill Lamm loved Mount Airy — especially downtown Mount Airy,” his son Chris said during a public forum at last week’s meeting in support of the effort. “Dad was proud of the Canteen Alley project.”
Last year, the city commissioners approved the installation of a memorial bench in Canteen Alley in honor of the late Russell Hiatt, longtime owner/operator of Floyd’s City Barber Shop on North Main Street. That project was spearheaded by local businesswoman Angela Shur.
‘No guidelines to follow’
While Commissioner Brinkley voted for the memorial bench in memory of Lamm, she questioned why a bench honoring Peter Lydens, Mount Airy’s first city manager, did not get the green light earlier.
“His wife wanted to do it for his 90th birthday — I think they wanted it down at City Hall,” Brinkley explained Tuesday of the bench that was to be totally privately funded, as has been the case with the others.
Brinkley wondered at the meeting why one bench request would not be approved while others are, which she said appears contradictory.
“It’s a question that comes up a lot,” Commissioner Dean Brown said at the meeting.
Another board member, Jon Cawley, had a response for Brinkley then.
Cawley explained that he was opposed to the bench for Lydens because it elevated the position of city manager over others in town. “What about the first mayor — or trash-collection person?” he said.
“Everybody’s job had a first.”
Cawley said in adopting that position, he is seeking to be fair to all.
“I didn’t want to get into the habit of recognizing the prominence of one job over another.”
Cawley said he has no trouble delegating control over such matters to the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc., which works to improve the central business district and approved plans for the benches honoring Lamm and Hiatt.
“These people who put extra taxes on themselves,” Cawley added, regarding the Municipal Service District tax levied on property owners downtown in addition to the regular real estate tax.
Brinkley said Tuesday that Cawley made a good point about there being “a first in everything,” but believes guidelines for memorial recognition projects should be developed to aid future city commissioners.
“We have no guidelines to follow.”
Lifesaving efforts cited
Also at last week’s meeting, members of the Mount Airy Fire Department — who also respond to medical emergencies — were recognized for lifesaving efforts during 2016.
The response provided by firefighting crews was credited with the saving of four lives in the city last year, according to Jose Butron, basic life support coordinator for the Surry County Emergency Medical Service, who led that recognition.
Butron said this is defined as restoring the pulse of someone in full cardiac arrest.
This can include the actual compressions or breathing done for a patient, to such tasks as supplying equipment to medics on the scene, driving an ambulance to the hospital on a critical call or assisting in preparing IVs in the back of an ambulance.
A county audit committee examines each case carefully to gauge the difference first-response efforts made in the outcome of an emergency.
The department’s Scottie Wolfe and Garry Heck played a role in three of the cases in which lives were saved, with Brian Emlinger and Travis King doing so in two cases.
Other firefighters were recognized for aiding in the saving of one person, including Austin Branch, Devin Goins, Kenneth Simmons, Matt Hutchens, Trey Leonard, Mike McCraw, Dusty Smith, Kenny Sechrist, Ryan Hooker and Jody Galyean.
In another matter, the commissioners voted unanimously to establish a procedure whereby the minutes, or written records, of closed sessions they hold are released to the public in a more timely fashion.
“It bothers me that the minutes of the closed sessions don’t seem to be released on a regular basis. and I think that should happen,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said in bringing the issue to the table.
Yokeley added that he wants to ensure public records laws are adhered to for such releases, but allow that to be done as soon as permitted and on a set schedule.
Also at the meeting, officials approved:
• The awarding of a $33,980 contract to the Hickory accounting firm Martin Starnes & Associates to perform the city’s annual audit for the present, 2016-17 fiscal year. The firm has handled that task since 2011.
• Reappointments for two members of the Mount Airy Planning Board, Jim Cavallo and David Jones. Both were approved for new three-year terms that expire on Oct. 31, 2019.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.