The Paducah City Commission discussed Tuesday and approved a proposed racial unity design for a water tower located near Exit 16 on Interstate 24 and also near the privately-owned Arant Confederate Memorial Park.
By a 4-1 vote, the commission passed a municipal order for the water tower’s artwork design — a Black arm and white arm clasping hands in front of a billowing American flag — at the request of Paducah Water and McCracken County Fiscal Court. The water tower’s design also states “United We Stand,” in mostly red lettering with the “U” and “S” in blue lettering.
Mayor Brandi Harless and commissioners Gerald Watkins, Sandra Wilson and Brenda McElroy voted “yes.” Commissioner Richard Abraham voted against it and said he’s “absolutely” for unity, but had some concerns for flag etiquette. He preferred the hands to be moved to below the flag.
Watkins, who’s an ex-officio member of the Paducah Water board, requested the issue to be put on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
“I think this sends a positive counter message to let the world know that passes by our doorstep every day that we’re inclusive, and we’re open,” Watkins said. “We’re a loving community. We support each other. Our races have a great relationship, and everyone’s welcome.”
It’s the latest step in a project first proposed by McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer in late April. He plans for it to be funded through donations, and it’s already received at least $4,130, according to the county.
J.W. Cleary, president of Paducah-McCracken County NAACP branch, also participated in the commission meeting and gave his support for the project.
“I just want to say to city and county government that I just think this will be a win-win for McCracken County and Paducah, Kentucky,” he said. “Because, as far am I’m concerned, we’re all in this thing together.”
In his remarks, Clymer said the country is “experiencing great racial divides” and discussed a Confederate flag flown at the memorial park by I-24.
“Many, if not most, people believe — I believe — that the Confederate flag represents racism,” he told commissioners, noting that others insist there is no racism message and think it only honors Confederate Civil War veterans.
Clymer said he believes the perception of bigotry is sufficient justification to act. “Regardless of the intended message,” he also voiced concerns that passersby don’t know the park is privately owned and that it’s not government condoned, so they may question whether the community is racist.
“Do we not believe that, whether intended or not, the message perceived by tens of thousands of people passing through our community daily is tarnished to some degree or another?” he said.
“The unity message displayed on the Paducah water tower across I-24 interstate from the flags would be recognized, I believe, as government property that displays a message of racial unity and patriotism.”
On Tuesday, The Sun reached out to Randy Beeler, a local member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who has weighed in on the project in recent months. He expressed concern for future maintenance costs, its design and flag etiquette.
“What we say is really not going to matter, but the truth of the matter is ... we don’t care what they put on that tower,” he told The Sun. “That tower is not going to affect us.
“The people that go down that interstate, go down there 75, 80 mph. They pass the park. They glance over. They either frown or they smile. Two miles down the road, they’ve forgot it. Same way with the water tower they’re going to spend (thousands on).”
Beeler said the difference is people can get off the interstate, go look at the park and figure out what it’s there for.
“Now, you may not like it or you may find it to be very educational,” he said. “The water tower? It’s (going) to be up there with a flag and two hands on it and it still goes against the flag etiquette. I don’t care who and what says it. It’s against flag etiquette and veterans don’t like it.”
As for the project’s cost, Clymer didn’t have an exact figure yet.
It depends on the size and Clymer estimated it’s going to be in the $30,000-range, but could be more. He thinks the donations will be adequate to make a sign and message that’s big enough to be seen.
“We’ll go forward with getting the plans together, find out the surface area there, what size do we think it needs to be,” he told The Sun, adding that some of it will depend on the amount of donations.
In other business:
• The commission approved an ordinance for a $89,180 professional services contract with BFW Engineering Inc. for the South 25th Street project. It will redesign the roadway from Jackson to Alabama streets, according to the city.
It’s partly funded by a $650,000 grant from state contingency funding. The commission additionally approved a $70,595 engineering design option for the South 24th Street project, which will improve the road from 25th Street to South 28th Street.
• The commission approved a tolling agreement with Jim Smith Contracting, JSC Terminal (Midwest Terminal) and the city.
According to city, it prevents the expiration date (until October 2025) of any statute of limitations on any claims by JSC Terminal against the city, as the city pursues a dredging and remediation plan for the sediment buildup near the transient boat dock. The city is working with state and federal agencies on a dredging/remediation plan that will require regulatory approval.