Larry Penkava
The Courier Tribune, Asheboro, N.C.
(TNS)
TROY — The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners will limit funds to the Uwharrie Volunteer Fire Department until the Confederate flag is removed from the station.
That was made known in a Nov. 14 letter addressed to the fire department, the Eighth District Democratic Party and the Montgomery County Democratic Party.
“Please be advised that until the Uwharrie Volunteer Fire Department removes the Confederate flag from the fire station property, the county will be limiting access to funds to permit only the fueling and maintenance of the county-owned trucks currently in possession of the department,” begins the letter.
Servicing and fueling of the trucks will be the responsibility of Robbie Smith, director of Emergency Management. According to the letter, the county owns the two fire trucks stationed at the privately-owned fire station.
The station, however, will be responsible for any other expenses, such as fire protection equipment and operational expenses. Matthew Woodard, county manager, said those expenses would include airpacks, hoses, turnout gear, utility bills and insurance.
Officials at the UVFD station could not be reached for comment Friday.
The letter was signed by Jackie Morris, chair; Anthony Copeland, vice chair; Jim Matheny and Wayne Wooten. The fifth commissioner, Mike Criscoe, did not sign it.
On Friday, Criscoe explained his reason for not signing had to do with defunding the firefighters.
“I was in agreement” with taking down the Confederate flag, he said, but not taking away funds needed to fight fires.
He said it was his view that by not providing the firefighters with what they need, the commissioners could put not only the volunteers but also the county in jeopardy. For instance, a firefighter on a call could be seriously injured or even killed. That could bring about lawsuits on the county, Criscoe believes.
“I do feel like the flag, people see it as hate,” he said. “I would like to see the flag removed, but it could have been handled more diplomatically. This could have a snowball effect. If they build a new station, the volunteers probably wouldn’t go along. The county may have to pay firefighters. Then other stations would want to be paid.”
Woodard said the commissioners have “been very liberal” with funding fire stations.
“Now (those at Uwharrie) feel like the county is turning its back on them,” he said on Friday, “but the commissioners really do back what the volunteers do. They risk their lives.”
‘Reason, responsibility’
However, Woodard said, the Confederate flag has come to mean more than heritage.
“It has come to represent oppression and hate, bigotry. That’s why the commissioners have offered something else, an appropriate remembrance.”
In the letter, the commissioners say they are “committed to the Uwharrie Department and its volunteers,” adding that the county was renewing an “offer to fund and support a historical marker in lieu of the Confederate battle flag and encourages the department to engage in discussions to identify the appropriate display and place … for the historical remembrance.”
The letter said once a compromise is reached for an appropriate memorial, access to county funds for fire protection equipment and operational expenses will be reinstated.
The letter went on to say that the position of the commissioners “has been more aligned with reason and responsibility than either of the extreme ends. … It encourages both sides to practice respect with all of your fellow Montgomery County residents. …”
While siding with the Democratic parties’ resolutions in opposition to the flag, the commissioners emphasized they would “not jeopardize the safety of the Uwharrie residents by removing county-owned fire protection equipment. The county will take reasonable and forcible steps to try and get the flag removed but will not place this issue above public safety. …”
Finally, the commissioners said that while the public comment period held at their meetings on the third Tuesday of each month will remain open for all to speak, the commissioners who signed the letter “will no longer address this matter publicly.”
Graphics, display
The letter also said that the trucks, as well as every county-owned truck in the 10 volunteer fire departments, will be re-detailed with graphics to show support of the county’s stance on equal rights and freedom of speech.
The commissioners will allow a 90-day period for the fire departments and the public to offer suggestions for the design for current and future vehicles purchased by the county. A graphic design company will be commissioned for the image, which is expected to be unveiled no later than April 2018.
“Other than working with the Uwharrie Department to build an appropriate remembrance and working with all stakeholders to select a graphic design package for fire trucks, the county considers the position of the governing body, and the course of action for moving forward, both set and resolved,” the letter added.
Protest planned
In a related matter, the Committee for a Better Montgomery County will hold a rally/demonstration at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Troy from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, “to peacefully and respectfully promote the removal of Confederate flags from Uwharrie Fire Department’s premises.”
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