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Residents should have heard plan on statues first

Newton Falls’ plan to welcome statues being rejected from other parts of the country is an interesting concept that has gained a significant amount of attention both locally and nationally.

Newton Falls City Manager David Lynch on the Fourth of July signed the proclamation declaring the village a “statuary sanctuary city.” This week Lynch said he already has had conversations with arts leaders in Columbus and San Francisco about the possibility of acquiring statues of Christopher Columbus recently removed from those cities in the name of equality and racial justice, along with concerns over public safety if the statues were to be torn down by protesters.

Lynch admits he isn’t sure when or if his plan will come to fruition, but he believes strongly in what he’s doing, all in the name of preserving history and educating our nation’s youth.

Many local residents, however, are in a tirade about the move, fearful that it could make Newton Falls a target for activists who have been storming through other cities, vandalizing and destroying public and private property and tearing down such statues.

It’s that fear, however, that Lynch says cannot dictate action in this municipality.

“We can’t capitulate to that fear,” Lynch said.

The Newton Falls proclamation spells out statues honoring eight specific “great leaders” that the village would accept: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, Patrick Henry, Francis Scott Key, Theodore Roosevelt and Christopher Columbus.

“Whereas these great leaders as represented by beautiful and artistic statuary throughout our nation deserve to stand in a place of honor and respect as a reminder that we as Americans can achieve great things,” the proclamation states.

When asked this week about his reasoning, Lynch said this: “I think that the people who want to tear down these statues are counting on, sort of, changing our thinking about our history through fear. And I think that is one of the most powerful tools that looters and people that set fire to police cars or buildings and people that tear down these statues are counting on — creating such a fear that our statues will come down, and they will change our educational process. … If everybody bows down to that, then maybe one day we will wake up, and there will be (school children) who might be asking, ‘Who is George Washington?'”

Indeed, his argument is sound.

But we equally understand the shock and anger voiced by residents in this small Trumbull County municipality, largely because this decision came as a surprise to them without any public discourse leading up to the proclamation’s announcement.

Lynch says he had advance discussions about his intent with members of Newton Falls Council and with the Newton Falls police chief prior to the Fourth of July announcement. A couple of elected officials, he said, were less than thrilled with the idea, but overall, he says he received no significant pushback initially.

The community, however, offered a much more harsh response — understandably so.

It is their community services and their tax dollars that ultimately will be used to protect these statues. It will become this village’s responsibility to ward off any potential damage or destructive protests that might result from bringing the statues here from larger, far-off cities that probably are much better equipped to handle those duties.

At the end of the day, we don’t believe it’s likely that many — or even any — of these statues really will end up here. However, the heartache and headaches are very real right now. They all could have been headed off by first hosting public debate in which residents, city department heads and elected leaders could have participated.

Indeed, the proclamation may have been well-intentioned, but it’s regretful that it came with little or no advance warning.

The strong and even admirable arguments that Lynch offered to us should have first been presented to residents, who just might have been more willing to accept them had they not been dealing with shock and surprise.

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