Millsboro seeking public comment on sensitive roadside memorial issue

MILLSBORO – It is often heard that time heals all wounds.

Millsboro town leaders want more time in addressing the sensitive issue of roadside memorials.

“I see both sides of it,” said town councilman Tim Hodges at council’s April 2 meeting. “It may be something we need to think about for another month or two … and talk to people in the town, the public, and get a consensus of what they want to do.”

Millsboro town council is looking into roadside memorials, such as this one on Monroe Street in Millsboro.

Millsboro Police Chief Brian Calloway brought the roadside memorial issue before council at the March meeting. He provided photos of several memorials within town limits. One memorial, the chief said, got to the point he reached out to the family on several occasions and ultimately removed everything but a cross “to be consistent with other memorials.”

Town council is weighing the pros and cons: public nuisance, private property encroachment and public safety versus the grieving and non-closure factor.

Initial research undertaken by attorney Mary Schrider-Fox, the town’s solicitor, produced nothing definitive to craft an ordinance draft.

“I didn’t draft anything because Sheldon (Town Manager Sheldon Hudson) and I talked, and we decided we weren’t quite sure what I should be drafting, as of yet,” said Ms. Schrider-Fox.

“I think council, they want to be delicate,” said Mr.  Hudson. “They want to be sensitive to different perspectives that are out there. I think that is why they are being so slow and deliberative on how to move forward.”

In looking at what other jurisdictions have done, Ms. Schrider-Fox said one of the prevailing things she found was that it’s a hot topic with a lot of opinions on both sides.

“In some places what they have done is limited roadside memorial displays to a certain time period. In one case, I think this was in Savannah, it was limited to a period of 30 days. They also included in their policy restrictions about lights, glass and lit candles for public safety reasons,” said Ms. Schrider-Fox. “That policy also included allowing memorials to observe the date of the loved one’s death, or for other holiday kind of occasions like Christmas or Easter, important occasions where someone might want to mark the event.”

Another example Ms. Schrider-Fox found mirrored what Chief Calloway had mentioned at the March meeting; a designated memorial marker site like the one in Smyrna.

In Virginia and some other locations jurisdictions allow a sign to go along the side of the road that says, “‘Drive safely, in loving memory of …’ and list the person’s name,” Ms. Schrider-Fox said. “Those signs in some places were allowed to stay, I guess, in perpetuity. In other places I found that they allowed it to stay for maybe a year or two years, some sort of a time-period attached to it.”

Councilman Larry Gum likes the idea of limiting the permitted time after an incident. “Maybe 90 days, whatever you would consider, maybe six months. After that I think it should be removed. That’s how I feel personally,” said councilman Larry Gum. “I think there are other places to memorialize someone and not on a roadside. Say an incident happened in front of your house, would you want a memorial put in your front yard?”

Councilman Jim Kells suggested the town might consider having designated places around town for people to memorialize loved ones. Memorial benches and bricks were mentioned at the March meeting.

And councilwoman Michelle Truitt reminded colleagues that “not everybody uses the cemetery. I have had a lot of comments about that.”

“One of things I definitely found in just doing this research of this issue is that there were some municipalities that were very close to enacting something and then walked away from it because they had a lot of public outcry,” said Ms. Schrider-Fox. “And in other places the public outcry was in the opposite direction and they did pass something.”

“And I did not find anything local,” the town solicitor added. “I did some searching in towns close by and so far I haven’t found anything, although certainly I have not searched every town in the state of Delaware.”

“I see both sides of it, like I said, and I can appreciate that,” Mr. Hodges said. “But if we’re talking about traffic accidents and other situations, how many memorials on the side of the road do we want in town? It is just a difficult situation; a difficult issue. I think time and talking with the residents and getting a consensus is probably the way to go.”

The town welcomes and encourages public input. Comments can be submitted to the town by email at: town@millsboro.org.

“I will certainly relay any comments, whatever comments you have, to council,” Mr. Hudson said.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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