High tensions dominate WSS City Council meeting: ‘I hope the town has no veterans’

The Mar. 11 White Sulphur Springs City Council meeting was packed with disgruntled attendees due to the spread of misinformation on Facebook regarding the Roads of Honor veteran’s flags earlier in the month.

The council has consistently supported the flag project since its inception last year, which consists of local veterans being honored with flags hung on utility poles lining the streets of White Sulphur.

A post claiming that there have been “issues” with the flags, along with numerous comments falsely stating that city council members oppose the flags, gained a significant amount of traction with locals over the social media site. This led several people to believe that banners honoring area veterans were going to be totally removed, egregiously relocated, or otherwise disrespected. Mayor Bruce Bowling quickly cleared up the situation at the start of the meeting, stating that this “was simply not the case.”

“About two weeks ago I got a call from our regional rep for the power company,” said Bowling, “and he said, ‘Bruce, I don’t want to start any trouble, but our policy with the banners going up on our poles is we want one per pole. It’s a safety issue for our linemen; we don’t climb a lot of poles anymore, but if we have to, you can imagine the trouble climbing over three different banners.’” Bowling stated that when MonPower called, he put the call on speakerphone in the office while Linda Coleman and Lloyd Haynes both heard the conversations with the representative.

Councilmember Mary Collins also spoke at the start of the meeting, giving a history of support for the Roads of Honor project from the council, beginning back in spring of 2018 when the idea for the project was first proposed. “There has never been any plan to take down any of the banners,” said Collins, “Only to move doubles or triples to different poles in order to meet the requirements set by MonPower. The only banner that was removed is one belonging to a veteran that requested his banner be taken down and not put back up.”

After the initial phone call, a White Sulphur Springs resident called MonPower threatening them with a lawsuit. This led to the representative contacting City Hall for a second time to ask that actions be taken with the doubled and tripled banners.

“If you want to get someone riled up you call and threaten to sue them,” said Bowling. “He told me, ‘You’ve got three choices; you can cut those banners down to one, you can take them all down, or through the public service rules we can charge you $400 per banner.’ I took it on myself, maybe it was wrong, to figure out which was the best option to take. It wasn’t hard to figure out.”

“If I were to have taken those banners down and left them down, there’d be twice as many people here because Facebook stuff was saying the City of White Sulphur is taking the banners down, they’re not putting them back up,” Bowling stated. “All of this false information going around has really gotten people stirred up, and this is really much to do about nothing.”

After MonPower contacted him, Bowling had City Hall reach out to Bobby White with the Vietnam Veteran’s Steering Committee, who helped lead the banner project. White was informed that a small number of banners had to be relocated to the closest available utility pole. He came before the council to express displeasure that the city moved the banners “arbitrarily.”

“Now, we veterans in the banner committee, are asking why there could not be a working solution to displaying our veteran’s banners,” White said. “Not just one man, Mayor Bowling, putting out a directive to taking the banners down and place them on the nearest available pole.”

Bowling responded by saying when the power company contacted him, he had to make sure the city crews fulfilled the safety obligations to MonPower, since the power company owns the utility poles. He also noted that when the banners first went up, the city crew installed the banners on their own time and with the city’s equipment at no expense to White Sulphur or the veterans. The mayor also clarified that he has no problem moving some Welcome to White Sulphur Springs flags to accommodate the relocated veteran’s flags, saying that it’s not one versus the other.

Bowling asked, “What do you guys want?” White responded, “I would like to have an apology to the veterans you moved, that’s the real gist. I’m here for them.” Bowling asked if the veterans whose flags were moved were offended. White commented, “I think they got offended because you took it on yourself to move them without input from them.”

Bowling again stated that it was by order of MonPower and not up to him. “They own the poles,” said Bowling, leading White to again repeat, “It’s not their banners, the banners are private property.”

At the end of the heated exchange, White said, “I hope that every one of them goes out of town. I hope the town has no veterans.”

None of the veterans whose banners were moved spoke at the meeting.

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In other news, a public hearing was scheduled on Monday, Apr. 8, at 6:30 p.m. for the City of White Sulphur’s Comprehensive Plan, which helps guide the community’s vision for what the city aspires to be. President of the White Sulphur Springs Planning Commission Lindsey Wolford called it, “A roadmap to the future for White Sulphur Springs.”

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The council approved a $1,000 youth recreation funding application to help fund the girl’s recreational softball league.

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