MANSFIELD -- The trees are gone from the front lawn of the Richland County Administration Building.
But public debate over the issue, which began when the tree felling began March 26, is far from settled.
-- A public, sunset public tree vigil is planned for the courthouse lawn Friday at 7:56 p.m., complete with candles, music and more.
-- Local attorney Eric Miller, a long-time advocate for trees, wrote a letter to Richland County commissioners protesting the removal of the trees.
-- Commissioner Tony Vero posted an additional response via social media on Wednesday night.
-- Commissioners, all of whom are Republicans, have a public meeting planned on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. to discuss beautification efforts on the law, including the planting of new trees, a planned Gold Star Family Memorial and overall new landscaping.
Commissioners have said the trees were removed in March for pedestrian safety from falling limbs, placement of the new monument and as a deterrent to roosting birds.
The plan to remove the trees was discussed during three recent public commissioners' meetings, including an awarding of a contract for the work on March 19, according to meeting minutes.
In his letter, Miller said, "As someone who has spent much of his lifetime trying to protect old growth forests and large native trees, I am less inclined to value the factors which drove your decision.
"The tulip and oak were selected for the front law because they are hardwoods that tend to grow straight and provide increasing amounts of shade as they age. With luck, they can live 150 years," wrote Miller, who has spent years trying to protect forests in the Mohican State Forest.
"Both provide food and shelter for wildlife and when birds perch in a tree that fulfills their need for shelter it is called 'roosting.' On a hot day, most folks would choose to sit under a tree in spite of the remote chance that a limb might fall," he wrote.
"Monuments can convey a greater sense of history and honor if they are shaded by the largest, oldest living things in our state," Miller wrote.
"I am also concerned with the process which led to the denuding of the courthouse lawn without adequate notice to the public. With better public notice, many of us would have asked you to weigh the benefits of large, noble trees against the factors that you emphasized in your decision.
"The trees you removed were planted and protected for 50 years and the public must now wait about that long before newly planted trees will achieve comparable grandeur," Miller wrote.
In a letter to fellow Richland County Democrats, John Makley of New World Landscapes from Shelby also criticized the tree removal, which he labeled a "tragedy."
"Though I am not an arborist, most of my professional life has been in horticulture. Those trees should not have been cut down. There were alternatives to addressing the issues the commissioners have given," Makley wrote.
"Who made the decision and how should be called into question. The process was surreptitious and the commissioners should not be allowed to walk away from this unscathed, if for nothing else than to make them and other public officials think twice before doing this again," he wrote.
Vero, on his personal Facebook page, posted comments on Wednesday night, further explaining the removal.
"The one consistent remark among those who are upset with the tree removal is that the commissioners did this in secret. This is absolutely not the case. We discussed the tree removal in a public meeting as the law requires three times: January 31st, March 7th, and March 19th (We approved the contract on the 19th.). We also submitted a formal request to the Mansfield Shade Tree Commission. They approved our request at a public meeting for a total of 4 open and public meetings in which public bodies discussed the tree removal.
"The indoor and outdoor changes taking place at the County Building is part of a multi-year process that involved setting aside money so they could be done at no expense to the operating budget. The new landscape will coincide with inclusion of a "Gold Star Memorial" (a memorial that honors families, relatives, and children who sacrificed a loved one in the service of our county), and the planting of new trees more suitable for a downtown setting.
"While we cannot please everyone with our decisions, we believe the public will be proud of the memorial and the new landscape and lighting designs," Vero wrote.