Sometimes public officials are put between a rock and a hard place. The harsh glare of public scrutiny does little to soften either side.
We sympathize, and admire those who shoulder responsibilities few of us would take on ourselves. But that doesn’t mean they are absolved from those responsibilities.
We think that city officials, especially our elected public servants, had a responsibility to explain to the public in a public forum why the image of The Cross at the Crossroads was removed from a mural on city property last week.
The City of Effingham faced a legal challenge over the image from a Wisconsin group that said it had been contacted by a local resident concerned about the separation of church and state.
Back in January, we said in an editorial that the image should not be touched because it symbolizes our community. The actual Cross at the Crossroads has loomed over our city since 2001, and is easily the most identifiable landmark in our community.
We trust that city officials examined all the legal ramifications related to the mural. For all we know, they came to the conclusion that there was no way for the city to prevail if this wound up in court.
We do not criticize them for making a decision. We just wish they had made it in public, during a city council meeting. Allow residents to ask questions. Provide the answers as best you can. Many might have disagreed with the conclusion, but at least they’d have had an explanation of how it was made.
The city issued a press release last week after the media started inquiring about why the image had been removed from the mural. The Effingham Daily News quoted that release in a news story on Friday, and we’re printing it on the Opinion Page Wednesday in full.
But sometimes press releases aren’t the best way to communicate the reasons behind hard choices.
An overflowing crowd attended a city council meeting in January when the issue first surfaced. Those concerned citizens deserved to hear from their leaders in a public form the reasons behind the outcome – even if that public meeting had to be held via video because of COVID-19 precautions.