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Lockport officials resolve controversy with veterans groups over plaque honoring Jex

LOCKPORT – The mini-controversy over a plaque honoring Lockport’s only Iraq War fatality was smoothed over Wednesday, as Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey and the Common Council agreed to let the city’s veterans groups have a say on any future installations in Veterans Park.

However, the Council will continue to have the final say.

At a work session, McCaffrey received the Council’s consent to send the groups a letter promising them the “courtesy of consultation” on any future placements of memorials in the park on East Avenue.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Navy-Marine Club and the Devil Dog Detachment sent the city a protest letter after the Council voted June 3 to allow the placement of a plaque honoring Spc. Albert R. Jex in Veterans Park.

The plaque was the idea of Elaine Farchione, owner of Orleans Monument Co., who wanted to honor Jex in the park whose centerpiece is a pink marble obelisk designed by local artist Raphael Beck and erected in 1930 in honor of Lockport veterans.

The plaque for Jex, who was killed in 2009 when the Humvee in which he was riding was struck by a roadside bomb in Mosul, Iraq, was attached not to the main monument but to a 5-foot-tall stone pedestal near the obelisk. The opposite side of the pedestal carries a sign identifying the park.

McCaffrey said she talked to Farchione in advance of the June 3 vote and she “felt it was consistent with what was already going on in the park.”

But the veterans’ groups said they were opposed to individual memorials in the park, saying it was meant to honor veterans as a group.

However, there is a plaque on a rock in the park honoring by name the first Lockport residents to die in World War I and World War II. Also, after the Beck monument was repaired a decade ago, a brick walkway was installed around it and residents were given the opportunity to have the names of veterans, living or dead, inscribed on the bricks.

“I still think the final determination (on new memorials) is with the City Council. It is a city park,” McCaffrey said.

Mike Walker, a past leader of three of the four veterans’ organizations, said after the meeting that prior notice “is basically what we were looking for.”

Cathy MacFarlane, Jex’s mother, also was satisfied. “It’s a good decision,” MacFarlane said. “The ultimate decision is the Common Council’s.”

City Hall leaders were surprised at the controversy over the Jex plaque. “We support the veterans, always have, and that’s why we all voted for it,” said Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward.

Walker said he was under the impression that the veterans had an existing understanding with the city on prior notification of new installations. He had sought a formal Council vote to establish that policy in the wake of the Jex plaque.

Alderman John Lombardi III, R-1st Ward, noted that the city had a Veterans Affairs Committee about a decade ago. “It didn’t last long. It became political,” he said. “Maybe it would be a good idea to bring that back.”

Jex has a marble park bench in his honor, which was first placed on Locust Street, but was rebuilt by Orleans Monument and moved to Children’s Memorial Park last year after the first bench was vandalized. The bench was built after the Council refused to name the Stevens Street Bridge over the Erie Canal in Jex’s honor.

“I think they should have just named the bridge after the kid,” said Alderwoman Kathryn J. “Kitty” Fogle, R-3rd Ward, who wasn’t on the Council in 2011 when that decision was made.

Meanwhile, Fogle disclosed plans to start taking action on the Fallen Heroes Memorial in Outwater Park, which is to honor those killed in military, police or fire service.

She displayed a 16-inch diameter reproduction of the Coast Guard seal under plexiglas, designed by D&T Graphics and made by Contracts Unlimited of Lockport. She said similar seals for all branches of the service can be made and either mounted on posts or installed on the railing along the park overlook above the Niagara Escarpment.

There was an elaborate $500,000 plan for the memorial, but McCaffrey said less than $4,000 in donations have been collected.

Fogle is taking the long view. “It can be added onto at any time,” she said. She was co-chairwoman of a committee that planned the memorial, and she and McCaffrey said the committee should be reconvened to decide exactly where to put the seals.

Fogle also said she would like to post at the park reproductions of the police badges of Buffalo Police Officer Patricia A. Parete, a Lockport native who died in 2013, more than six years after being shot on duty, and of Niagara County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey A. Incardona, who died in a patrol car crash July 22, 1993, while rushing to the scene of the shooting of Lockport Officer Steven L. Biles.

The Fallen Heroes Memorial was suggested in 2013 after the Council refused to rename Rogers Avenue Park after Parete.