Public Questions Placement Of ‘Peace And Nonviolence’ Monument Park On Open Space

Township resident Skip Schaefer speaks to the Township Council about the proposed “Peace and Nonviolence” monument park.

The topic of placing a “Peace and Nonviolence” memorial on township open space was once again the topic at a Township Council meeting, with residents telling the council on June 26 that they do not support the proposal.

The idea of placing statues and busts of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nelson Mandella and Martin Luther King, Jr. on part of the former Consolata Mission property is championed by Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large). It has been Prasad’s dream to erect such a memorial for at least 10 years.

But the idea that township public works employees should install the statues, landscaping and parking lot – at a projected cost of at least $100,000 – has caused some consternation. Councilman James Vasanella (D-Ward 5), who sits on an ad-hoc committee with Prasad and others to study the proposal, said at the last council meeting that money for the installation had been raised from private sources.

That has not stopped the questions of whether it’s proper to put such a private donation on public property, and who would be responsible for the care and maintenance of the monument park should it be installed.

Township resident Skip Schaefer asked the council at the June 26 meeting to “pump the brakes a little bit” on the proposal.

“Not that they are bad concepts, peace an nonviolence,” he said. “I think most of us lived through the 60s, when peace and love and nonviolence were the prevalent themes, they’re not bad concepts.”

Referencing the audience of several people in the council chamber, Schaefer said, “As I look around, this is sometimes a typical audience for a council meeting, you might have 10 or 15 people here on another evening. If five people get up to speak about something in favor, and one comes up and speaks about something against, please don’t take that as a mandate for something you should do for the 65,000 residents of this town, it’s not a mandate.”

“I would ask how long it took for you and whatever committees were involved, to come up with the name and get the proper approvals to put the signs Interfaith Lane up and down Cedar Grove Lane,” he said. “I suspect it took a lot longer time than you’re taking now to consider this peace and nonviolence memorial proposal. Please do not ramrod this proposal through.”

Schaefer also said he is opposed to the council spending any public money on the monument park.

“I’ve heard the rumors that these proposed statues are all going to be privately funded and donated, you and I both know the expenses do not end there, you’re going to have land, you’re going to have maintenance of that land and whatever configuration you put on it,” he said. “You’re going to have security issues on it as well, and those will be township expenses.”

Schaefer also brought up an incident from 2015, when Prasad accused township residents opposed to the development of Catalpa Park of being biased against Asian Indians, and asked township police to bring in the FBI.

“I find it more than a little ironic that this whole proposal comes from a councilperson who in the past has clearly demonstrated that he holds anybody who is against one of his proposals as possibly being a racist or a bigot or a neo-Nazi or a skinhead or anti-Asian American, and I’m talking about the whole Catalpa Park issue,” he said.

“Someone who actively sought law enforcement intimidation tactics to go against citizens that were against his Catalpa Park proposal,” Schaefer said. “Someone who referenced mass shootings in North Carolina and South Carolina and Wisconsin and implied that the same kind of mindset existed in Franklin Township residents as in the people who took part in those mass shootings. Someone who repeatedly lied about the words and the actions he took in regards to the whole Catalpa Park incident.”

Township resident Beverly Briggs suggested that rather than establish another park in the township, that busts be placed in existing parks.

“Putting it in this particular park, you’re not going to get a lot of people coming there,” she said. “I’m not going to say people won’t, but a lot of people won’t go there.”

“If it’s in a park with a playground, more kids are there, maybe they will stop and actually look at it,” Briggs said. “But using township dollars to put a bust or statues up, I don’t see where that should be us paying for it.”

Briggs also address what she called “rumors” that the statues are being made overseas.

“The rumor is that the statues aren’t going to be built in America, that doesn’t make much sense either,” she said. “If by some chance these statues are pushed forward and they are being built, they could at least be built with something that says made in America.”

Township resident Johnny Tibbs was the only person who spoke in favor of the monument park, saying the township should be “proud” to spend money on it.

“I’m here to say give approval,” he said. “They should have some costs, the township should be proud to have some cost to the township if they’re building those four monuments to those four individuals. I think Franklin Township would be a proud community to let those busts be built.”

“What other community has the proposal to have those four busts in their towns?” he asked. “I think you would be remiss not to let that happen.”

Vassanella said the ad-hoc committee welcomes comments from the public. He said the committee would try to meet prior to the council’s meeting in July.


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