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What’s in a name? Legislators demonstrate dialogue of the times

Marietta City Council opened debate Thursday on the naming of public assets with the introduction of a resolution proposing the renaming of Washington Street Bridge in Marietta. The proposal offers deceased State Rep. Andy Thompson as a candidate for the bridge’s namesake and still requires further readings before the city legislators call a vote in a regular business session. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

What’s in a name of a landmark, a structural asset, a park or a stretch of highway?

Monuments and cancel culture have been a topic of note across the nation this year, as erections to figures of history and their impacts upon marginalized communities have been questioned.

But what about local renown?

“Partisan politics can be healed in your own backyard,” said Jade Thompson, widow of the retired State Rep. Andy Thompson, who died in May. “Andy had a service heart and I want his service heart to be recognized…When people step forward they don’t do it for money, they do it for service. There’s a bigger payoff in the end in thanking people for their service … And there’s a compromise, their family sacrifices for their service.”

The merits and minimum standards of renaming a city asset in Thompson’s honor brought this question to the forefront of city legislators’ debate this week contrasting the vote upon a newly designated city park with a proposal to rename the Washington Street Bridge.

Knox Park, a city green space along the River Trail between East Muskingum Park and the city adult exercise park on Front Street, was officially designated by vote of council Thursday.

The namesake of the park calls back to the Knox family’s economic impact upon the community as shipbuilders and employers of generations of city residents along the western shores of the Muskingum River in Harmar.

Following three readings, the approximately 0.63-acre pocket park across from Smitty’s Pizza was designated Thursday in formal business.

“I would remind council that we just designated the name of a park to be named after a family, which I think is very similar to what we are discussing at this moment,” compared Councilwoman Cassidi Shoaf, one of the three council members who introduced Resolution 63 on Thursday, proposing the designation of the bridge in memory of State Rep. Andy Thompson.

The bridge, built in 1953, spans 1,035 feet from end to end over the Muskingum River and both Front Street and Gilman Avenue.

The resolution saw introductory support from Shoaf and Councilman Bill Gossett, the two Republican voting members of the same political party as Thompson, and Councilman Geoff Schenkel, D-4th ward.

But support was not unanimous Thursday.

“The naming of a public asset does not reflect the affections and feelings of a particular moment but should be given to someone who has accomplished much for the city,” said Councilwoman Susan Boyer, a retired common pleas judge, and Democrat representative at-large. “It seems premature to make such a designation at this time. There have been those from this city who have held higher office (and) provided more diverse service. C. William O’Neill comes to mind.”

Boyer noted the 59th governor of Ohio was also a Republican, but one which held not only the gubernatorial seat but also served as the elected state attorney general, speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and chief justice within the Ohio Supreme Court.

“He is the only person in the state of Ohio to have had leadership positions in all three branches of government,” Boyer said of O’Neill, a native of Marietta and graduate of both Marietta College and The Ohio State University.

Thursday’s proposal is the second piece of legislation this year concerning Thompson, who died of myocardial infarction on May 13.

Thompson was also honored by Resolution 22 in June as a memorial recognition of the life and public service of the former state and a local legislator. (Thompson also previously served as a city councilman before serving in Columbus).

But Boyer’s words left the widow of the retired state legislator feeling hurt and angry.

“I want to remind people (that) politics is also about goodwill and about recognizing service,” said Thompson. “It is a small gesture on her part to come and give my family that gift.” Her husband served three terms within Marietta City Council and four terms in the state legislature.

Thompson noted that the service of her husband extended outside of legislative action and into the city through volunteerism and noted she plans to continue advocating for the designation.

The proposed naming is the first offering to designate a structure owned by the city in recent years, predominately new names of city assets rest in the naming of parks and other green spaces — such as the change of Lookout Park to Gold Star Park around the erection of the Gold Star Families Monument on Harmar Hill — or in the erection of park benches and swing benches within city green spaces.

Outside of city limits other recent namesake movements have successfully named stretches of highways into memorials of deceased Vietnam War veterans, or renamed township roads based on the family ties to surrounding properties.

Councilman Mike McCauley, the ranking member of the legislative body, spoke upon the merits of the bridge’s original namesake George Washington, the first U.S. president.

“Andy Thompson was a man of note in the city of Marietta,” acknowledged McCauley. “(But) when you look at the Northwest Ordinance, a young surveyor by the name George Washington surveyed this area … he went on to become to the president of the United States and I think that bridge ought to stay the Washington Street Bridge.”

The debate on the naming of the bridge which directly services three state routes (7, 60 and 676) along the Ohio River Scenic Byway is not over.

Council’s options moving forward are to table the resolution on Dec. 3 or Dec. 17; advance the resolution to an early vote by a suspension of the third reading on Dec. 3; or to host the remaining two readings and call for a vote on Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in room 10 of the Armory, 241 Front St.

In other business Thursday, council also created a new position within the information technology department and introduced an increase in pay schedules for the part-time code enforcement official position.

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