Time to compromise on fountain plans and move on

March 27, 2007 11:00 pm

It's a fountain that's produced a lot more controversy than water.

We're talking about a memorial proposed at the center of Courthouse Square to honor county employees who have died. The fountain plan emerged after Linda Rojas, a popular deputy Board of Supervisors' clerk, succumbed to cancer more than two years ago.

On its surface, the proposal seemed fitting, proper and destined for a series of unanimous Board of Supervisors' votes. After all, who would quarrel with honoring Rojas and other deceased county workers with a cool, cascading oasis at the center of the square and paid for solely with private donations?

A lot of people, it turns out.

The Tuolumne Heritage Committee and its chairwoman, Sharon Marovich, are unanimously opposed. Also against it is the county's Historic Preservation Review Commission and its chairwoman, archaeologist Shelly Davis-King. So are supervisors Mark Thornton, a historian, and Teri Murrison, a board newcomer with no agenda or ax to grind on the issue.

Their gripes?

There are plenty, many of them legal, procedural or technical. But they all boil down to one one thing: Many think the proposed 6-foot-tall, 11-foot-wide fountain is too darn big.

"A behemoth," is how Marovich described it.

In fact Marovich and other strident critics want the fountain moved to an alcove at the nearby A.N. Francisco Building.

This idea, pardon the expression, won't hold water. More than a block from Sonora's Washington Street, the alcoved fountain would be all but hidden. The memorial belongs at Courthouse Square.

But should it be a fountain whose size and design have drawn such opposition from those who care deeply about Tuolumne County's history and the integrity of Courthouse Square?

Almost certainly not. Before construction begins, the Board of Supervisors should take a step back and try to reach a compromise. A smaller fountain with a design more compatible with the classic park Tuolumne County Supervisor Frank Ralph designed more than 70 years ago may be the answer.

Critics may complain that this process could delay construction by weeks or even months and that county leaders should instead spend their time on more pressing matters. But the fountain will be a centerpiece of Sonora's first and, arguably, most beautiful park. Over the decades to come, tens of thousands will, see, pass and enjoy it. Taking the time to do it right makes sense.

Also worth a closer look is something that has been lost in the debate over the fountain's size and design: Who gets honored?

Rojas, whose courageous battle against cancer, inspired the fountain. Others then suggested that Supervisor Jim Peterson, Sheriff's Deputy Dave Grant and Facilities Manager Jerry Tucker, all of whom died within the past few years, also be honored with fountain plaques.

But Tuolumne County was established more than 150 years ago. What of the hundreds of employees who have preceded these four in death? And what of the hundreds who will follow? Is there room for that many names?

Are only those who pass away while still on the payroll eligible? Or should an employee have to work, say, at least five years to be eligible? What about a worker who put in 25 years, but was fired? Or a longtime employee who was nowhere near as likable as, say, Rojas?

You get the idea. As soon as you add plaques or names to the fountain, you add politics.

We say keep it simple: Rojas could be credited as the fountain's inspiration, but it should in plain language be dedicated to all Tuolumne County employees who have died, thus including everyone and offending no one.

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Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.