ANGOLA — Angola officials are considering how they might protect the mound that’s home to the Steuben County Soldiers’ Monument from future protests after the historic landmark became a gathering point for numerous public demonstrations last year.
Councilman Gary Crum raised the issue at Monday’s Angola Common Council meeting. Referencing a Jan. 16 column by Herald Republican Editor Mike Marturello, which argued that Angola’s elected officials need to take a stand to protect the sacred ground, Crum asked whether the city could draft an ordinance prohibiting demonstrations from taking place on the mound surrounding the monument.
“I couldn’t agree with the article more,” Crum said. “I don’t think it was right to have people on the mound demonstrating, or on the monument. I don’t know how other council people think about that, but if we are in agreement, or, if we think we could move along with this I’d like to see us put an ordinance together.”
Constructed in 1917, the Steuben County Soldiers’ Monument is where the community commemorates the end of the Civil War and honors the 1,278 men from Steuben County who served in the Union Army.
However, during the past summer, Black Lives Matter protesters and counter-demonstrators staged frequent demonstrations on the mound. One gathering last fall saw Second Amendment activists openly carrying rifles while they briefly occupied the circle.
Crum floated the idea of the city designating a particular space for public demonstrations.
Councilwoman Kathy Armstrong said she agreed with Crum and believes the city has been too lenient about letting protesters use the mound as a gathering space. She also questioned whether the armed demonstrators have had an adverse effect on the businesses located on Angola’s Public Square.
“If people are uncomfortable coming into businesses, does this not become a matter of intimidation?” she asked. “People with AK-47s on the mound is intimidation.”
“Yeah, that part is,” Angola Mayor Richard Hickman replied.
Hickman revealed during Monday’s meeting that he has spoken to Kim Shoup, the city’s attorney, about an ordinance. He told council members that he instructed Shoup to “dig into the issue more.”
But one potential issue to consider, Hickman said, is that an ordinance preventing demonstrations on the mound might have an adverse impact by pushing protesters back to the surrounding sidewalks, where they could impede foot traffic to downtown businesses.
“I heard enough complaints from some of the businesses with what was going on this summer when they were out on the mound,” he said. “It was keeping people from coming into some of the restaurants and other retail downtown.”
Ultimately, no action was taken on the item Monday. Council is expected to address the issue again after further research is done on the city’s legal options.
“Kim is looking into it and I will have him get back to us,” Hickman said.