PORT ANGELES — Mayor Sissi Bruch’s decision Tuesday to withdraw her controversial proposal for Veterans Memorial Park failed to mollify fellow council member and former mayor Cherie Kidd, a critic of the plan.
“She has misrepresented our community statewide,” Kidd said.
Bruch had placed on the agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall at 321 E. Fifth St., a discussion about replacing the artwork of Revolutionary War soldiers and muskets on a fence erected in September around the replica of the Liberty Bell in Veterans Memorial Park. She would prefer less militaristic symbols.
Bruch, who told Peninsula Daily News on Tuesday morning that she intended to proceed with the discussion, said she changed her mind by Tuesday afternoon after speaking with Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter.
Bruch had said she wanted the full council to discuss new options for the fence, which was privately funded — costing about $15,000 — and approved by the city parks and recreation commission to protect the bell from vandalism.
In recent years, Veterans Park had become a sheltered spot for homeless people and vagrants, some of whom had left trash in the park and damaged the bell and the structure that supports it.
Bruch’s agenda memo sparked intense criticism by council members and other residents, including veterans, several of whom urged her to rescind the agenda item.
“It was clear from the responses we have received that we are not going to be able to have a thoughtful conversation about this topic [tonight],” Bruch said in a statement released by City Clerk Kari Martinez-Bailey.
“The original intent, to have a robust discussion around the use of different symbolism to celebrate our veterans has been lost.
“Out of the concern for our community, staff and council, as they have had to deal with a lot of emotion around this issue due to the spread of misleading and incorrect information, we will not be discussing this item.
“This has taken an emotional toll, has created unnecessary distractions and there is concern that having this discussion [tonight] will prevent council from attending to the important issues before us [tonight].”
Bruch believed “there was not the emotional space out there to discuss this,” she said in the interview later Tuesday.
“I did not want to bring more divisiveness in our community.”
Kidd had challenged Bruch’s authority to put the item on the agenda, saying the topic fell instead under the purview of the parks and recreation commission.
Kidd on Tuesday urged residents concerned about the issue to attend the meeting despite Bruch withdrawing the proposal and criticized the mayor’s prepared statement, saying Bruch was not taking responsibility for her actions.
“This statement is as much of an insult as her original agenda item,” Kidd said.
“This seems to be blaming veterans and their supporters for their reaction to her trying to take away a wonderful, community-built community asset that has been approved by the parks and recreation commission and paid for by the citizens.
“She has blamed others for what she has done.”
Kidd said Bruch, who as mayor is a “community liaison,” has “a huge disconnect” with city residents.
“There are other actions to be considered” regarding Bruch’s actions, Kidd said, refusing to be more specific.
“We can look at actions that can be taken, that’s all I can say,” Kidd said.
“I feel this should be addressed.”
“When the mayor creates a perception that we don’t support our veterans, then that’s a problem.”
Bruch, who is not a military veteran and had an uncle who served in the Bolivian military, said she meant “absolutely no disrespect at all” toward veterans and wanted to use a symbol different than guns to mark their sacrifice, such as the American flag or the Constitution.
“I would rather look at the ideals rather than the brute force to save those ideals,” she said.
“This world is already harsh.”
Bruch said she will withdraw the proposal at the beginning of the meeting when council members are asked if there are any modifications to the agenda.
Bruch said she did not personally regret scheduling the topic for council discussion.
“I regret that people had such a visceral response to it without understanding, I guess, where it could have been leading to,” she said.
“I regret the misinformation out there.
“I regret the reaction, and I’m saddened at what happened.
“I wish we could have been civil.”
She said more than 10 and maybe around 20 people had raised objections to her about the depiction of guns being held by the soldiers at the park.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].