SOMERSET, NJ - Despite recent revelations in the local media that the construction of statues for a proposed peace monument began well before the plan come before the Township Council, a vast majority of the public at Tuesday night’s meeting expressed support for the project.
“We have an opportunity here to make a statement,” resident Bob Stone said during the hour-long public comment section of the meeting. “To call attention to the greatness of this particular man (Mahatma Gandhi).”
The plan to build four bronze statues of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi as a “Non-Violence and Peace Memorial” on a piece of land on Route 27 and Cortelyous Lane moved forward during a May council meeting with the members unanimously giving it a green light.
At the time, Township Councilman At-Large Rajiv Prasad, who has been spearheading the project, said that the artwork for the plan is being donated.
A recent published report based on emails released through New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, however, showed that the statues were already under construction in March, before the council took any action on the project.
After a long discussion on the project at the May meeting, council members eventually voted to let the project, estimated to cost the township between $50,000-$100,000 for the work it would need to do on the site, move forward through Township Manager Robert Vornlocker and Township Attorney Louis Rainone unless major issues came up, in which case, it would come back to the governing body.
More than 100 people packed the meeting.
About 16 people spoke during the public session Tuesday night with supporters of the project vastly outweighing those opposed 14-2.
Those supporting the park said that commemorating the achievements of the four featured individuals is important and shows the township’s commitment to their peaceful principles and the diversity of the community.
“It will bring a different ‘vibe’ (to the township),” resident Curtis Walker said. “We are all about peace (here). I think it is a good thing, I think it is good for our community.”
Walker and other supporters received applause following their supportive remarks.
One of the opposing comments questioned the need for the park.
“The real question here about the statues, is ‘why?” Resident Bill Connell said. “I really can’t think of a good reason to go down this road. I think you are forcing Franklin to represent something it doesn’t have to.”
Even among those supporting the project, there were comments about the transparency of the process and calls for residents to do more service in the names of these four people rather than just building statues.
“My biggest issue is the transparency of it all,” Resident Beverly Lawson said. “This stuff was started long before it was even discussed with open space or anyone else. Next time, give us transparency.”
She said that she has no problem with the diversity represented in the project, but reminded people that they can do more than build statues.
“You can go out and volunteer and do the same things that you all say (these four people) did,” Lawson said. “Where is that in this township? I don’t really see it.”
Edison resident and Township Council President, Ajay Patil, who said he pays taxes in Franklin Township, expressed his support for the project.
“(Those four people) have spent their lives in the humanitarian cause,” Patil said. “We are asking for nothing compared to what they have done for the world.”
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