Emmitsburg’s bill for repairs to the town’s “doughboy” statue has gone from zero to more than $20,000.
The statue depicts a World War I soldier with a rifle in one hand and a grenade in the other. It stands at 601 W. Main St. in Emmitsburg.
The doughboy was erected in 1927. The driver of a pickup truck hit the statue in June, knocking the doughboy off its pedestal. The repaired statue went back up in March.
The driver involved in the single-vehicle crash was Rebecca Irene Iser, according to Town Clerk Cathy Willets. Attempts to reach Iser on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Emmitsburg’s commissioners approved $40,000 in town money to repair the statue. They chose Gettysburg-based sculptor Gary Casteel to re-solder the statue and find a new limestone base.
The town of Emmitsburg paid Casteel, expecting the driver’s insurance company to reimburse the entire cost.
Town Manager Dave Haller said the process was rushed due to pressure from local veterans groups, and the town obtained only $15,000 from the insurance company.
“The mayor and the town attorney made the decision to take the $15,000 guaranteed for property damage,” Haller said. “I didn’t truly support that.”
Emmitsburg Mayor Don Briggs doesn’t think the decision was rushed at all. The local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, which were eager to have the statue fixed, “were very patient with us,” Briggs said.
Briggs said the town government wanted to avoid the risk of losing any further compensation.
“We were led to believe that [$15,000] was the top amount we’d get,” he said.
Taking the $15,000 payout wasn’t the mayor’s decision to make. The town’s commissioners must approve expenditures.
Town Commissioner Joseph Ritz III said the commissioners were pressured to accept the $15,000 instead of pursuing full compensation.
“We were basically forced to vote last month at a closed session, and my main argument was Dave Haller stated it would be in our best interest to take the money and run, essentially, because we couldn’t prove that the statue belonged to us,” Ritz said.
The closed session was held immediately after the town’s April meeting. Briggs did not attend the April commissioners meeting or closed session. He said he does not know how the proposal was ultimately presented to the commissioners.
Tim O’Donnell, president of the town commissioners, declined to comment on what was discussed in the closed session.
Following Maryland’s Open Meetings Act, the commissioners announced the need for a closed session at their April meeting. They voted unanimously to approve the closed session to discuss “potential litigation.”
The law also requires public bodies to produce summaries of closed sessions in the minutes of the next public meeting.
A summary must include “a listing of the topics of discussion, persons present, and each action taken during the session.”
Emmitsburg did not acknowledge the April closed session at its May meeting on Monday night. The minutes of Monday’s meeting are expected to be presented at the May 16 town meeting.
Haller agreed that the summary of the closed meeting should be public.
Accepting the $15,000 payout means the town could no longer sue the driver for further reimbursement, according to Haller, who suggested suing the driver as an option.
“It may be worth our while to sue the actual person [who] hit the statue, thereby forcing her to sue her insurance company,” he said.
The town will likely dip into its reserves to pay for the repairs instead, Haller said. The expense will be part of the town’s fiscal 2017 budget.
Michael Hillman, president of the Emmitsburg Historical Society, provided Ritz and The Frederick News-Post with a copy of a deed for the land the statue stands on.
The deed, signed in 1929, transferred the land and all of its improvements — including the statue — to the “burgess and council” of Emmitsburg.
According to Haller, the town would need to have a court verify that information.
Ritz said the town should not have to pay someone to complete that process when it already has a copy of the deed in hand.
“The citizens of Emmitsburg should not be responsible for paying for the negligence of another individual,” Ritz said, referring to the driver.
The commissioners decided to table the ownership issue until their next town meeting on May 16.