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Contentious battle over Royal Oak war memorial location is on the city's ballot this week

Judy Davids/City of Royal Oak

Royal Oak voters will choose the location of their city’s war memorial by voting on a new city ordinance this Tuesday.

The city moved the memorial about 60 feet from its prior location as part of a new downtown park project last May.

Some veterans groups objected to the move, and spearheaded a drive to get the ordinance on the ballot. A “yes” vote on the ordinance would require the city to move the memorial back to its prior location, and would also reserve a portion of park for exclusive veterans memorial use.

Pat Paruch is Royal Oak’s Mayor Pro-Tem and a city commissioner who supports the park re-design. She said the memorial had been moved multiple times before with little fanfare, and its new location is more accessible to those with disabilities.

“There’s no graves there. There’s no sacred ground underneath them,” Paruch said. “It’s veteran names on a big piece of granite, or pieces of granite. And they’ve moved before.”

“This isn’t a vote on whether or not you like veterans, or whether or not you support veterans. It’s whether or not you move a couple ton piece of granite 60 feet. That’s what it is.”

But proponents of the ordinance counter that city officials didn’t take veteran concerns into consideration before they made the move. They call the former location an “ideal and appropriate” place for the monument, and note that “Many businesses, groups, citizens, and other persons contributed significant time, effort, and financial resources in order to effectuate the move and expansion of the Veterans War Memorial to [the former location].”

Paruch counters that the city held an extensive public engagement process when it came to the downtown park planning, and said the ordinance opens the city up to legal liability with language that allows any person, group, or business to sue if they believe it’s being violated.

The dispute has even spilled over into the city’s mayor’s race. The current mayor, Michael Fournier, is being challenged by Thomas Roth, commander of the American Legion post in Royal Oak, and a fierce critic of moving the monument.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.