Orange County

The bill’s not in yet, but some are questioning the cost of defending Silent Sam

It’s abundantly clear, even to protesters, that it cost UNC Chapel Hill, the state and local governments a lot of money on Tuesday to secure the campus in the face of a massive protest against the continued presence of Silent Sam, the university’s Confederate memorial.

Campus police and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office supplied the visible police presence on McCorkle Place as protesters ringed the barricades around the statue. Chapel Hill police, meanwhile, watched over Franklin Street and the adjoining areas. At least one busload of N.C. Highway Patrol troopers was in reserve on campus, and Carrboro police were also on hand.

Authorities made three arrests during the evening.

UNC Police charged Kenny Grabarczyk, 32, of Graham, with possession of a knife on educational property, and Gregory Southall Williams, 27, of Durham, with wearing a mask or disguise in public and resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer. Chapel Hill police charged Claude Wilson, 19, of Chapel Hill, with resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer in connection with an attempt by protesters to block the movement of a van authorities were using to take away the other arrestees.

Most of the governments involved have yet to add up the evening’s bill, save for Carrboro, where Mayor Lydia Lavelle said an initial estimate is that her town’s police and fire departments spent about $8,500 on their small part in the affair.

She stressed that from her perspective, the money was well-spent on protecting public safety, not for protecting Silent Sam.

“Obviously, I don’t feel very good about the fact we have to continue to protect the statue,’” Lavelle said. “In my opinion, we should have been able to work out a way to get the statue down. And I know that folks in Chapel Hill [government] and the university have been trying to figure out a way to get that done. In the meantime, we like to support our fellow jurisdictions. If the people in Chapel Hill need help, we’re willing to do that, as long as it’s necessary and reasonable.”

She added that “it’s something that would seem unreasonable to go on for a great length of time.”

Like other local officials interviewed Wednesday, Lavelle alluded to the university’s decision to leave the statue in place in the face of contrary urgings from Gov. Roy Cooper and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger. They both favored its removal in the interests of public safety. But Chancellor Carol Folt and her staff decided a 2015 state law protecting monuments doesn’t have enough wiggle room to allow that.

Two local officials, Hemminger and Orange County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mark Dorosin, signaled Wednesday that they believe university leaders yielded to pressure from state legislators. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, supplied evidence for that assessment on Tuesday, via a statement that said a removal would set a “dangerous precedent that state law can be circumvented in the presence of potentially violent intimidations.”

Neither Hemminger nor Dorosin were happy with the situation.

“The governor, I thought, gave us a clear path forward,” Hemminger said. “The state legislature is not of the same interpretation. The university is caught in the crosshairs.”

“The fact they didn’t move to take it down is a real troubling testament to the level of retribution that we’ve seen this legislature is willing to dole out,” added Dorosin. “I’m sure one of the rationalizations for not taking that down is fear the legislature will punish the university in the next round of budgeting.”

Dorosin’s government funds the county sheriff’s office, though it has no real say in its management given that Sheriff Charles Blackwood is also an elected official. But the chairman said his board will probably want a report that among other things details the cost of Tuesday’s operation and “what we should be thinking about for the future if the statue remains standing.”

Given that UNC officials had “ample justification” to act, “I hope the sheriff will seek to be reimbursed for the expenses his department incurred as a result of the university’s failure to take steps to avoid all that,” Dorosin said.

Hemminger said her government is “taking it sort of in steps,” but is working on the assumption UNC-CH will cover any costs of operations on its property, and that it’s “back on us” for anything off-campus.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said cost-sharing for things like Final Four street celebrations is the norm. But the need to plan for Tuesday’s protest arose quickly enough that “we haven’t had those conversations yet.”

The Chapel Hill department operated on the assumption it would have to provide security and traffic control on Franklin Street, which proved true both when protesters marched to the off-campus home of UNC system President Margaret Spellings and when some tried to block the prisoner-transport van.

Blue said planners “have been having conversations” about how they’d cope if the statue remains and the protests continue.

Should that happen, “I think it would place a significant load on all the resources of the university community and ours,” Blue said. “We’re thinking about how to manage that if it became the case. But it would be significant.”

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg