By James Beaty
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Issues surrounding those metallic figurines that have been removed from atop city street signs are rising again — with the matter heading the agenda of the next McAlester City Council meeting, set for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at city hall.
Controversy has surrounded McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak’s decision earlier this year to order workers to remove nine metallic silhouettes including crosses or other Christian religious symbols from atop street signs in the city.
However, the one metallic silhouette specifically identified at the center of the controversy in a resolution passed by a church-related organization in August — and subsequently cited in McAlester City Council agendas concerning the matter — was never removed in the first place, the News-Capital has confirmed.
The issue began around the city’s alleged removal of a figurine depicting an individual of the U.S. military kneeling in prayer from atop a street sign at a Third Street intersection in McAlester.
That followed demands that it be reinstalled.
As the controversy continued, the News-Capital examined the nine silhouettes which were removed earlier this year — but didn’t find the alleged Third Street intersection silhouette among them.
However, a check of the Third Street and Choctaw Avenue intersection of the silhouettes still in place showed a figurine of what appeared to be an American soldier kneeling in what could be considered silent prayer.
It’s still atop the street sign on the northwest corner of the Third Street and Choctaw Avenue intersection, the one nearest to the First National Bank and Trust.
A similar one is in place atop one of the street signs at Carl Albert Parkway and Strong Avenue intersection.
Asked Friday evening if the silhouette at the Third Street and Choctaw Avenue intersection had ever been removed, Stasiak said it wasn’t.
Stasiak also acknowledged that he hadn’t driven by and looked at that particular intersection.
James Prince, chair of the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptist executive board, was informed that the silhouette depicting a military man kneeling in what appeared to be prayer was still in place. He also acknowledged at that time that he hadn’t checked all of the silhouettes.
He said the Gaines Creek Association’s original resolution had been based on a report from a Tulsa television station.
The situation arose after a total of nine of the figures were among 125 different black metal silhouettes given as a gift to the city of McAlester to depict the area’s tradition and culture.
Stasiak had ordered nine of the figures removed after he said he received a complaint that some silhouettes incorporated a cross and allegations that made it unconstitutional.
Following those actions, the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptist passed its resolution.
The resolution passed by the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptist on Aug. 4 states the following: “Be it resolved that the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptist stand opposed to the removal of figurines depicting U.S. military kneeling in silent prayer from the Third Street intersection in McAlester.”
Meanwhile, as stated on the agenda for Tuesday night’s city council meeting, the agenda item calls for “discussion and possible action on a resolution put forward by the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptist opposing the removal of figures depicting U.S. military kneeling in silent prayer from the Third Street intersection and asking the city of McAlester to reverse the decision and reinstall the silhouette.”
Previous discussions have ranged far beyond that single figurine at the Third Street intersection, to touch on the nine figurines containing crosses or other Christian imagery that were removed by the city earlier this year.
The city council had previously tabled the matter, then set it aside until more legal advice could be obtained. It has been placed on the agenda again, following more action by the Gaines Creek Association of Free Will Baptist, which passed a resolution on Nov. 3, this time requesting “that the cross removal issue be an agenda item at the next city council meeting.”
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