Veterans oppose proposed location of Tucson's World War II memorial

Left out of planning; Kino Park preferred over downtown spot
2013-02-19T00:00:00Z Veterans oppose proposed location of Tucson's World War II memorialDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

What started out as a way for the city of Tucson to honor its veterans has so far only managed anger them.

The city wants to erect its long-delayed World War II memorial downtown at Armory Park.

But veterans say the city left them out of the discussion of where the memorial should go. They believe Kino Veterans Memorial Park, where it can be placed near the existing war memorials, is more appropriate.

Seven years ago, the city began looking at ways to fund a tribute to Tucsonans who lost their lives during the war.

After the city's financial troubles stalled the project for years, the city recently announced it was moving forward with the $219,000 public art project, with the expectation it would be installed at Armory Park by Veterans Day 2013.

"It was a complete surprise," said former Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Vern Pall. "The veterans were never brought into the planning of this memorial. … We were never consulted, yet we represent the 130,000-plus veterans in the Tucson area."

Pall said he was invited to attend sessions last year where various art concepts were batted around, but he couldn't attend so he appointed a liaison. He said there was never any indication the city had made a final decision on where the project would be placed.

The current chairman of the city's Veterans Affairs Committee, Dan Ross, said the veterans were unanimously opposed to the location.

He said downtown Tucson is inconvenient for many people, and veterans have an affinity for Kino Park.

"There's no parking downtown. It's a crowded area," Ross said. "And we hold most of our events at Kino right now."

In December, the committee supported then-Chairman Pall's decision to write a letter to Mayor Jonathan Rothschild expressing the group's displeasure with the site and asking the city to reconsider.

Rothschild said the city decided on Armory Park because Kino couldn't accommodate a memorial the size the city plans.

"We intend it to be larger than the space available at Kino," Rothschild said. "We are going to use the space for a large, national event to honor veterans. We need a park with the space and size to accommodate that. At Armory Park, we have that space."

Pall thought there was still time for the veterans to work things out. But if there is such a possibility, the committee will have to do it without Pall.

In December, the city notified the group that appointed Pall as its representative, the Military Officers Association of America, that his term was expiring and they would need to renominate him. The renomination came up at the Feb. 5 City Council meeting, but Rothschild and Councilman Richard Fimbres asked that Pall's name be removed from consideration. Pall was notified on Feb. 7 via a letter from the City Clerk's Office that he was no longer on the committee.

Pall was shocked.

"We are a quiet committee. This was the first time we really acted when we sent the letter to the mayor," Pall said. "I think we rattled them a little bit when we were unanimously against their plan. … If they had a problem with me, they should have called a meeting and discussed it."

Pall said the city has no interest in hearing honest input from its own committees, especially when it concerns veterans.

"Why have a committee if no one in the city is going to listen you?" Pall said. "The city has been AWOL on veterans' issues."

According to Rothschild, Fimbres asked Rothschild before the meeting if he would be willing to meet with Pall and sort out some of the issues Pall had with the city's decision before voting to reappoint him. Removing Pall from the committee was never the intent when his name was removed from the list of nominees being voted on that night, the mayor said.

Fimbres is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Councilman Steve Kozachik said while he was unaware of why Pall was dismissed, he believes the city should consider the veterans' wishes.

"I support their decision to have the memorial at Kino Park," Kozachik said. "If we are building a memorial to honor them, we need to listen to our veterans about where it should go."

Veterans were disturbed by the city's decision to dump Pall from the committee.

Thomas Owens, president of the Military Officers Association of America, said the city is stifling the democratic process by removing a person just because they disagree with him.

"It's not up to them to tell us who we can appoint," Owens said. "You just can't arbitrarily kick him off just because he spoke up. That's what a council is for" - to discuss ideas.

"As far as we're concerned, he's still our representative. And if there are any future meetings, he should be there to represent us," Owens said.

June Berkey resigned from the committee when she heard what the mayor and council had done.

"I am tendering my immediate resignation … in protest of the removal of Vern Pall," Berkey wrote. "It is not the place of the (mayor) and council to make this recommendation in secret or without the approval" of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 and ddaronco@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @DarrenDaRonco.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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