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City Council Members Vote to Move Veterans Memorial Featuring a Cross in Controversial Case. Here’s What Happened on Election Day.

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"They didn't listen and look the people have spoken!!"

Image source: KCCI-TV

It went down like this.

In August, thousands of people rallied to keep a veterans memorial in a public park in Knoxville, Iowa — despite a lawsuit threat from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which said the memorial should be moved because the cross connected to it is a religious symbol.

Image source: KCCI-TV

In September, over 30 people made impassioned cases to the city council about why the memorial — which depicts a silhouette of a soldier kneeling at a cross — should stay. A petition to keep the memorial bearing over 500 signatures was presented.

Image source: KCCI-TV

Then on Monday, the city council voted 3-2 to have the controversial memorial moved and a new bronze structure with a rifle and solider's helmet take its place. 

But the very next day, Election Day, two of the council members who voted to remove the memorial — April Verwers and Carolyn Formanek — were voted out of office. The third council member who voted to remove the memorial didn't run for reelection.

Verwers (left) and Formanek (Image source: KCCI-TV)

The voting booth results were characterized as a victory by a local group called Stop the Insanity, which boasts 2,773 "likes" on Facebook. While the group was launched as an advocacy body to keep the memorial, it actively campaigned against the reelection of Verwers and Formanek after they voted to remove the memorial.

Once the two council members were voted out, those connected to Stop the Insanity were overjoyed: "We warned them multiple times if they let our town down they would be voted out," Allison Schmitz commented. "They didn't listen and look the people have spoken!!"

Instead Cal Stephens, James Lane and Rick Kingery were elected to the council after more than 1,000 ballots were cast, KCCI-TV reported.

"I think they needed to listen to the constituents along with the rallies," Kingery, a strong supporter of the memorial, told KCCI. "The people put out 2,000 wooden crosses across town. That is a huge number. People wanted their voices heard, and they were not listened to."

Image source: KCCI-TV

But while the vote may appear to indicate council members' support (or lack thereof) regarding religious symbols in public places, Mayor Brian Hatch told TheBlaze it's not that simple.

Hatch said Monday's vote was to give the AMVETS organization permission to move the controversial memorial across the street to private property and have a bronze memorial set in its place — which was originally the plan all along.

Mayor Brian Hatch (Image source: Knoxville City website)

It was a "win-win," Hatch said, especially after threats of litigation from the Americans United group.

Then before Monday's vote, Hatch said AMVETS changed its stance, saying they didn't want to move the controversial silhouette memorial but would "gladly move it if you make us." Hatch said he and council members were taken aback by AMVETS, which he said seemed to want to turn the city council into the "bad guy."

And Hatch said that's false, adding he believes "there's not one person on the city council" who's against the memorial — but for a town of 7,000 facing lawsuits, Hatch said the best interests of the city were too important to ignore.

"How much is it worth?" he asked regarding the potential for losing millions in a lawsuit over the memorial.

And the Americans United isn't the only lawsuit possibility.

Al Larsen — the Knoxville resident and Vietnam War veteran who created the silhouette memorial to honor an Army private killed in the war — is being represented by attorneys with the nonprofit Liberty Institute.

Roger Byron, a senior attorney with the group, told the city council in September that Larsen's free-speech rights would be violated if the memorial was removed, the Des Moines Register reported.

"It's completely unnecessary to move it," Byron told the paper Tuesday, declining to say if legal action was imminent. "It's completely lawful where it is. … We're talking over our options with our client."

The new memorial will be dedicated at a Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11.

Follow Dave Urbanski (@DaveVUrbanski) on Twitter

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