Saluda veterans pack council meeting over sign removal

Published 7:37 pm Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Local veterans from all over the county packed the Saluda City Council meeting to support Jerry “Doc” Russell, who came to question why his sign honoring veterans was removed.
Council met Monday, March 10 and heard from Russell, who carrying his Bible, told council members believing his home town was a veteran town, he made a sign to be visible to visitors and especially to any veterans approaching town.
The sign said, “Saluda-A Veteran Friendly City” and Russell placed it at the corner of Ozone Drive and U.S. 176.
Russell said he had the sign made in black and white and measured the state department of transportation (DOT) signs to make his the same size. His sign, he said, was also almost the same size as Playful City signs that are still standing in Saluda. He said he thought he had permission from Mayor Fred Baisden, who saw the sign before he put it up.
“I’m confused why the sign was removed,” Russell told council.
He said he’s heard the first complaint came from a woman that owns the Oaks Bed & Breakfast.
“Is that lady here,” Russell asked. “I really want to see her. I want to see what she looks like. The one who could oppose the sign, that honors the people that fought for our country.”
Then Russell said he heard two ladies on the council opposed the sign.
“If I’d quit there, I wouldn’t be here asking questions,” Russell said. “But I didn’t want to let the veterans down.”
Commissioner Lynn Cass said the lady Russell was referring didn’t complain about the sign, but sent an email to the city asking if she could put a sign up for her bed and breakfast now that there was another sign in the city.
A man from the audience asked, “So if I don’t like something, all I have to do is send you an email?”
Baisden said he wasn’t there to point fingers but Saluda’s acting zoning administrator reviewed Russell’s sign and based on the city’s situation, it was taken down. Saluda is currently without a zoning administrator so city administrator Erny Williams is handling the duties. Saluda officials said Monday there are several signs within city limits that do not comply with the city’s sign ordinance, which one restriction is that signs be no larger than 2-feet by 2-feet. Russell’s sign is 2-feet by 3-feet.
Williams said his job as administrator is to work for the public and the board of commissioners. He said he told Russell if there was a complaint the sign may have to be removed. Williams said it was brought up in a meeting and the next morning he removed the sign.
“I think Saluda is a friendly town towards veterans,” Williams said. “What I think is the problem is a lack of communication.”
“I don’t know now why the sign was really taken down,” Russell said. “The stories are conflicting and contradictory; I just don’t know. I’ve had to defend myself against Hal Greene (Saluda’s planning board chair) who taught me his background as a South Carolina lawyer. I don’t know how he got in the picture.”
Russell also said he spoke with the DOT who suggested Russell paint the sign green with white letters and make the words a little bigger to say, “welcome to Saluda, a veteran friendly town.”
Russell said he has questioned if he is cursed or blessed to have earned a PhD in administration.
“But I can’t understand any theory or any type of administration being practiced here that I studied in graduate school,” said Russell. “Is it just complaints? Complaints and crisis, is that how we operate?”
A couple residents were not in favor of Russell’s sign being allowed in the city. Shelley Dekay said the people on the board are public servants and they have been attacked over this.
“Why the controversy when we are obviously veteran friendly,” Dekay said as she mentioned Saluda has a veteran park.
“And who in the world (did) that (created the park)?” Russell asked.
“You did,” Dekay answered Russell.
“But you can’t put a sign up and say that,” Russell said.
Dekay said others might also like to see signs that say Saluda is a farmer friendly town or a small business town.
“Do we want them?” Dekay asked. “It opens the door for everyone’s signs.”
Betsy Burdett said Russell is one of her favorite people but to honor veterans only is a disservice.
Russell said if he seems a little forceful it’s because the first time he came to council he didn’t get one sentence out. The second time, he said was to beg for 10-square feet of grass and council wouldn’t allow him to say a word that day. He ended by thanking the veterans for serving their country.
“And I assure you there was a time when Saluda really was a veteran friendly town,” Russell said. “I’ve been here all my life. I’m proud to be one of you. I pray God’s blessing on the town and I hope its future is just and without further discrimination. I have no apology for the sign. It seems only a sin to certain folks. I wish you all the best in the days ahead and God bless America.”
Baisden said not all signs in the city are in compliance and council is planning a bus trip with its planning board around the city to look at the signs and decide how to address the city’s sign ordinance.
“All signs will be addressed eventually,” said Baisden.

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