The Richland County Commissioners owe this community an apology, though for me the unneeded destruction of the beautiful trees on the Courthouse lawn is very nearly an unforgivable act.
To add insult to injury, they deny it was done in secret and now blame the protesting public for not being better informed. How was the public supposed to know they were even considering this unimaginable deed? I will attest that I am in and out of the Courthouse almost every day and never heard even a hint of it until it was all over.
Their defensive touting of four "public" meetings is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. Yes, there were three meetings of the Commissioners and one Shade Tree Commission meeting that were "open" to the public, but the Commissioners know better than anyone that neither the media nor members of the public were present or had any other way of knowing what they had in mind. "I can't force the public to come to our meetings," Tony Vero told me.
If they, as our elected representatives intended to make the most dramatic, and irreversible, change to the downtown landscape in my long memory then they had an affirmative duty to inform the public in advance and solicit comment.
If they didn't recognize their duty then, or admit it now, they don't deserve to be our elected representatives.
And talk about putting the cart before the horse, only now is there is a meeting scheduled to obtain the advice of a landscaper about coming up with their new "plan" to include the proposed monument, benches, and replacement trees. So what was the big hurry about cutting them down now?
The bottom line though is that their "plan" did not have to be an all or nothing proposition for the trees. Every element of that "plan" could have been easily integrated alongside the trees. An obvious example of that possibility sits right across the street in Central Park but the Commissioners didn't even bother to look that far.
Their total lack of appreciation for the setting may come from the fact that their special side door parking spots lead them to rarely use the front door of the Courthouse, or even go much of anywhere else in the building outside their office. They apparently have no idea of the character of the building or what goes on there.
It's an intense place.
The trees gently softened the public's experience of the many very stressful matters that cause them to have to come and go from the Courthouse.
It will now be two generations before the comfort of nature will be available to the public as it was just a few days ago.
The Commissioners didn't own those trees, the public did.
It wasn't their judgment to make to remove them, it was the public's judgment to make.
This wasn't leadership, this was ignorant bullying.
They should be ashamed.
They should be voted out!