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Mathews board approves survey of Court Green, intends to convey ownership of land under monument

The Mathews County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night to have a survey of the Court Green in preparation for an eventual transfer of ownership of a parcel under the Civil War monument to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Mathews County Administrator Ramona Wilson noted that, in a voter referendum during last year’s election, 80.6 percent of Mathews voters did not want to have the monument removed from its current location at the corner of Court and Church streets. She said she had been tasked by the board to look into having a survey done in preparation for a deed transfer and had determined that it would cost between $1,500 and $2,000.

The initial motion was made by supervisor Mike Walls, but chairman Paul Hudgins said he would like to also consider another spot on the Court Green for a memorial for African American veterans, and Walls asked supervisor Melissa Mason to make a motion regarding such a memorial.

Prior to making her motion, Mason spoke about the need for a conversation in the county about whether the Civil War monument is there for historical purposes or whether it’s showing support of slavery. While some people say the monument is a memorial in support of those that fought in the war, she said, “in all honesty … people’s feelings get hurt … you’re not putting up wreaths, but constantly putting up Confederate flags.”

“We have to find some way to collaboratively understand culturally and historically what’s hurtful to others,” she said. “We honor those that gave their lives, but also honor those of color, my ancestors, that also contributed to Mathews. I would like to have a meeting of the minds to learn. Mathews should be the example to other people instead of the go-along … We have to do this in some kind of smart, get-along way. We skirt around the conversation—it’s not about it being a memorial, but about the decorations … We need to change our mindset to say it’s not a ‘you’ or a ‘them,’ but an ‘us.’”

Supervisor Dave Jones said he had served in the military and that veterans never care about “where somebody is from” and that he would never be for enslaving people, but that “I care about preserving history. It’s a war memorial.”

The board discussed placing names of Mathews men who died in the Civil War at the base of memorial, with Hudgins suggesting they could possibly be on headstones or footstones.

NOTE: This article was edited to correct a previous error that stated the board voted to convey the land and the monument. Supervisor Dave Jones said the county does not own the monument and could therefore convey only the land, and that the board voted only to have the property surveyed at this time, not conveyed. In addition, the motion by Supervisor Melissa Mason was for a monument for African American veterans. The article previously stated it would be for the African American community. A correction was also made to the percentage of voters who voted to retain the monument on county property–80.6 percent rather than 86 percent.

Hole in the Wall restaurant

There were some contentious moments during Tuesday’s meeting, with Dee Russell of Hudgins, speaking during public comment period, accusing supervisors of “constantly attempting to tear down a successful business like Hole in the Wall because they simply do not like them.”

Russell said she had asked repeatedly to inspect the records on the restaurant in the building official’s office “as is my right based on the Freedom of Information Act,” but had been given various excuses for not being granted access and had instead been given screenshots of computer screens. When she asked to see the actual documents, she said, she was told they had been destroyed.

During board discussions, County Attorney Andrea Erard said there had been confusion about “where all the parts of the file were located.”
“There was a miscommunication,” Erard said, adding that the file is in the office and ready for Russell to view.

During supervisors’ reports, Walls said that the septic pump-out at the Hole in the Wall had “become notably less” since a water meter was installed. He said he assumed the restaurant had cut back on its water usage.

Jones said it had been determined that there are zoning and structural issues with the restaurant, including a roofed portion that was added on without approval, and that would not have been approved because of its proximity to the adjacent property. He said there were other issues with compliance, as well, including a deck that was built wider than what had been depicted in the drawings submitted for the permit.

“Anyone else who built these should have to take them down, and I don’t believe the county has the right to do it,” said Jones, adding that there are also liability issues with the building, including possible issues with the insurance coverage.

Mason said the board needs to work collaboratively to solve the issues at Hole in the Wall.

“We want to build economic development,” she said. “We want people to come into the county and enjoy themselves, and that’s one place they do. We need to build partnerships with our businesses.”

While the county shouldn’t have gotten into the “business of being landlords,” she said, “we own it and should do something with it.” Although people might say the board is “out to get” Hole in the Wall, she continued, “what if something happens to someone at the property?” She said the board needs to do its due diligence.

“If someone fell short, would you not expect us to address it?” Mason said. “We’re looking at the needs based on what’s on paper. Let’s start over, start again … If there are structural issues, we have to look at them.”

Jones said that the setback encroachment needs to be addressed by taking off the accessory structure. “We can’t say it’s a county building, we can do what we want,” he said.

Mason said the new county administrator, herself a certified engineer, can bring “a new set of eyes” to the matter, and Wilson responded that the lease “is not fair.”

“It has to be fair to both parties,” Wilson said. “And I think there are some violations of the lease.”

Hudgins said an engineer will be doing a report on the structure, and asked Wilson to talk with the health department about how long meter readings are required.

“We’ve spent a good amount on the Next Gen system,” Hudgins said, “but we would rather fix it correctly than continue to throw money away and still have the problem.”

Jones said the board is hoping a federal grant can pay for a sewer line to Gwynn’s Island and that he and Walls, as the subcommittee appointed to look into issues at the restaurant, would like to “have a sit-down” with restaurant owner Mac Casale, but that after speaking to him by telephone on Feb. 24, when he said he was “doing due diligence,” “he has not reached out to us yet.”

“Casale scheduled a meeting with the county administrator, and we shut that down,” said Walls. “This board is in control of that property. That door is open—Mr. Casale slammed the door. But we are absolutely going to correct that problem.”

Mason reiterated that Hole in the Wall “is a well-run business that provides excellent service.”

“It’s a business and it employees people,” she said. “We don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes people’s jobs. We want to make sure the business keeps running strong.”

While the subcommittee was appointed to conduct business, Mason said a full board meeting with the business owner would show that “this is a team effort.”

Jones insisted, however, that the owner “has got to deal with the subcommittee.”

“We have a solution, and we think Mr. Casale would be open to it,” said Walls, “but until we get him in the room, we can’t have that conversation.”
During the second public comment period, Russell spoke again, saying that she had asked building official Kevin Zoll if there was anything about the Hole in the Wall structure that put people in imminent danger, and he had said no. She also read from an email Casale had sent to the county, in which he said that he had asked the county for a meeting, and that no one from the county had contacted the health department about Hole in the Wall in more than 90 days. She said that it’s not the job of a subcommittee to negotiate contracts, but the job of the county administrator. At that point, Jones, Walls and Hudgins all turned their backs to Russell.

“We’re all citizens of the county,” said Russell. “We have a right to make complaints.”