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Sylva votes to prohibit Confederate imagery on town property

The Sylva Town Board approved a resolution tonight that creates a policy to prohibit the use of Confederate imagery on town vehicles and property purchased after July 10.

“The intent here is not to erase history, but the intent is to realize what has happened over the years,” said Commissioner Ben Guiney, who proposed the resolution. “Frankly, the Confederate flag has been taken from the veterans and the descendents of the veterans and is a symbol of white supremacy, and has been for some time.”

The policy would include symbols that depict the town’s iconic courthouse hill, which prominently features a statue of a Confederate solider that is currently the topic of heated debate. The Sylva Police Department earlier this year got new badges and patches featuring the scene. The policy would not require the department to discard all that newly purchased material but would require that any future purchases scrub the statue from the scene.

“This was in no way adding it for the purpose everyone had talked about today,” Police Chief Chris Hatton told the board. “We just added the image as it appears on all the photographs that any of us have of the courthouse. This is an issue that has only just recently come to all of our minds.”

Guiney’s proposal drew support from the majority of the board, which ultimately approved the policy 4-1.

“I don’t need to convince everybody that this statue is racist to them,” said Commissioner David Nestler. “The fact that it is racist to a portion of our community — a very important portion of our community — that’s enough for me.”

“It’s one group of people subjugating other groups of people,” agreed Commissioner Greg McPherson. “That’s why I have such a powerful reaction to it. Yeah, I am an artist and I should not want this statue removed because it’s a statue, but this is the time that we live in and until everyone is treated equally under the eyes of the law, I’m going to vote however I can to get rid of it.”

Commissioner Barbara Hamilton voted in favor of the resolution but expressed conflicting feelings regarding the statue itself.

“I have had many phone calls. I have been stopped by locals that feel the same way,” she said. “They don’t feel that it’s really about slavery or anything like that, but it was their ancestors that were just trying to protect their land.”

Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh provided the sole no vote but expressed to the board that the issue has caused her many sleepless nights.

“To some people this is offensive, and to some people this is representing people who died to save their land or save their children or their land,” she said. “It wasn’t about slaves. It wasn’t about having slaves, especially not in Jackson County, in the poverty-stricken county that we were.”

The board also briefly discussed a resolution presented by Commissioner David Nestler that, if passed, would request that the county relocate the statute somewhere outside town limits. A longer discussion, and likely a vote, will occur at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, slated for 9 a.m. Thursday, July 23.

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