Veterans tell Royal Oak officials 'your presence will not be welcomed' on Memorial Day
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the proper post number for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1669.
Royal Oak — The mayor and city commissioners were notified Friday by two veteran organization commanders that they aren't welcome at a parade and ceremony honoring military veterans on Memorial Day.
Elected officials traditionally appear at the popular parade and related events in Royal Oak and most of the city officials uninvited Friday are up for re-election in November.
The unprecedented action follows a back-and-forth dispute over the relocation of the current Veterans Memorial in Centennial Common to another site because it did not fit in with city architectural plans for the public area.
The email, co-signed by American Legion Post 253 Commander Tom Roth and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1669 Commander Chris Templeton, was sent to Mayor Michael Fournier, and Commissioners Sharlan Douglas, Kyle Dubuc, Brandon Kolo, Monica Hunt, Melanie Massey, and Pat Paruch. Only one official, Douglas, returned a call for comment Friday to The News.
“The City of Royal Oak authorizes and funds the Memorial Day parade,” Douglas said. “Commissioners will participate in the parade and ceremony on behalf of those who we represent — all the people of Royal Oak, especially those who have lost ancestors to war."
The email was sent by John Williams, adjutant of American Legion Post 253 on behalf of Roth and Templeton, neither of whom could be reached for additional comment Friday. Williams referred any questions regarding its content to the two co-signers.
“Though Memorial Day events are open to the public, and no one is excluded, please be advised that YOUR PRESENCE WILL NOT BE WELCOMED at this year’s events,” the email reads. “We ask that you voluntarily choose not to participate in/attend this year’s parade and service, as doing so would be hypocritical of you.”
The email cites city leaders’ exclusion of veterans on the design committee of the Centennial Commons park area currently under construction. Veteran groups have opposed the relocation of the Veterans Memorial to a spot 40 feet away which they feel will make it more difficult to accommodate persons wishing to visit or attend future ceremonies.
Veterans conducted a petition initiative and collected enough signatures to have the matter voted on by the commission or placed on a citywide ballot. But officials have not recognized the number as sufficient and cited other reasons to refuse the petitions, including wording on the petition they felt was vague or misleading.
The veterans also cited the city’s refusal to honor a 2007 initiative, including private funding, to maintain the memorial at its current location.
The email to officials alleges they intentionally excluded veterans from membership on the Downtown Park Task Force.
"You then excluded veterans from the special status as ”stakeholders,” who were solicited for input about a possible change of use of the land designated for Veterans Memorial use only," it reads.
After the groups expressed disappointment they claim that the officials "continued to avoid us like the plague, ignoring our letters and public comments."
"The Veterans War Memorial could be incorporated into the new park design as your own architect stated, but your actions make clear that veterans — particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country — are of little importance to you," it claims.
The letter argued that the officials have misrepresented that veteran organizations were able to provide input and contends city leaders "falsely claim" that the memorial is being moved for its protection.
“Memorial Day is about veterans, particularly those who gave their lives in the service of our nation,” the email concludes. “It is not about politicians, particularly those who lie and engage in voter suppression. It certainly is not a place for politicians to make self-serving speeches proclaiming their admiration for veterans while their actions show otherwise."
The parade is scheduled to step off at 9 a.m. May 31 at Main and Lincoln and head north to Third Street and end with ceremonies at the new City Hall off Troy Street.