It officially was counted as a unanimous vote on a request that appeared to be a slam-dunk, but one Mount Airy official questioned the process involved with using the city seal at a local site.
The matter that came before the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners Thursday afternoon concerns a plaque to be placed at the former location of a Rosenwald school in the Sandy Level community. It is adjacent to the historic Satterfield House on the corner of North Franklin Road and West Virginia Street.
That house is considered the first deeded to an African-American in Surry County, while the Rosenwald school — which no longer stands — was one of 5,357 such facilities built across the South to serve that population in the early 20th century.
Plans call for the historic sign to be placed at the Satterfield House until there is a safe and appropriate walkway to the former Sandy Level Rosenwald School. At that time, the marker will be moved closer to where the school was located.
The design for it includes the Great Seal of the City of Mount Airy at the top and the dates the Rosenwald campus was in operation at Sandy Level, 1918-53. The marker also will list information about the history of such schools that existed during the segregation era and the “two heroes” responsible, Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald.
Both the sign and words have been approved by the governing board of the Sandy Level Community Council and members of the Mount Airy Historic Districts and Properties Task Force.
The city government was not asked to fund the cost of the sign, put at about $3,000, which will be paid for by a private foundation based on discussion at Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the commissioners.
In August, they had been asked by Sandy Level supporters to allocate $200,000 toward a renovation project at the Satterfield site with a total estimated cost of $307,520 to allow the house to become an events center. No action has been taken on that request.
Cawley cites concerns
The request to the commissioners for permission to use the city seal with the sign was not on the agenda for their meeting Thursday afternoon, but added at the request of Mayor Ron Niland.
Julia Mitchell, a representative of the Sandy Level community and a former city board candidate, formally presented it then.
The matter produced no discussion among the commissioners, who unanimously approved the use of the city seal — or though it seemed.
When Commissioner Tom Koch made a motion to that effect, Mayor Niland asked for a vote by the commissioners — including newly appointed at-large member Joe Zalescik, who had been sworn in earlier Thursday — which produced a chorus of “ayes.”
However, Niland did not ask if there were any “nay” votes, which usually is done.
Commissioner Jon Cawley belatedly registered his opposition at the end of the meeting when officials offered general remarks.
Cawley informed everyone that he would have voted “no” if prompted to do so by the mayor, “although I love the Satterfield House.”
The North Ward commissioner apparently didn’t respond either way during the decision, which officially counts as an affirmative vote under rules of parliamentary procedure.
Cawley explained that he had issues with the process involved and not the request itself, which was initiated just before Thursday’s meeting.
In his 13 years on the city council, Cawley said this was the first of its kind ever made to Mount Airy officials and he was unsure of the implications surrounding use of the city seal in such a manner.
Cawley said he would have liked more time to study that issue, and believed officials “dropped the ball” by rushing the seal request through. He implied that some on the city board believe governing the municipality involves simply making and voting on a motion without proper consideration.
“But I think it’s dangerous territory for us,” Cawley remarked.
When Niland had the opportunity to offer random remarks later during Thursday’s meeting, he acknowledged the lateness of the city seal request. “I wasn’t aware of it until I got to the meeting.”
Yet the mayor reminded that such additions to the agenda require approval by the commissioners and if any one of them objects such items can be delayed until another session.