December 1, 2021

Debate over placard design in Homer turns heated

Todd R. McAdam/Managing Editor

Signs posted by John Hartsock advocating his pitch to include the fictional character David Harum on signs welcoming people to Homer have been stolen and toppled in a debate that has grown increasingly heated.

A debate over the design of signs came to an end Tuesday during the Homer village board meeting, when Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe announced the voting would end early due to the “threat of a lawsuit.”

“It was supposed to be a fun thing, a little friendly competition and we choose the next sign,” McCabe said at the meeting, although he did not identify who threatened suit. “Well, unfortunately it has not been fun, it’s been pretty negative.”

McCabe made the motion to adopt the village’s design after determining the votes stood at 43 for the village design and 29 for resident John Hartsock’s design. The motion passed 4-0, with board member Tim Daley absent.

Hartsock declined to comment on the topic Tuesday morning, but said Monday he would not attend the village board meeting to comment because he wanted to let the issue die down.

Images Provided

These images show the design that was adopted by the village of Homer board for the village’s new welcome signs. The image on the left is the front of the sign.

The argument over which design should welcome visitors to the village of Homer had turned vitriolic: Lawn signs promoting Hartsock’s option were stolen and the mayor had alleged the opposing designer “has devolved into personal attacks.”

“It’s gotten pretty ugly,” McCabe said Monday.

Hartsock had said the signs should have David Harum’s name on it, a fictional character whose name is now on the sign and was inspired by 19th century figure David Hannum. The village board countered that just having the word “historic” on the sign encompasses a multitude of historical figures from the village.

Throughout the month of October, residents were to get one vote per household for the design of their choice when they paid their water bills. Renters could have voted at village offices.

But the debate over what the sign should say escalated.

Someone stole lawn signs Hartsock put out urging people to vote for his design — the one that included David Harum.

Hartsock said he put the signs on his lawn Friday night, but when he went outside Saturday morning they were gone on his lawn, but he hadn’t heard of others being taken from lawns throughout the village, including his neighbor’s house.

“I thought it was kind of funny, it’s not like there’s a lot of value to them,” he said Monday, noting other signs in the village were not stolen.

Hartsock filed a police report.

Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman said police are investigating.

McCabe said he doesn’t know why anyone would take the signs, but noted seeing the sign on Hartsock’s lawn Sunday evening. Hartsock said he replaced the ones that had been taken.

McCabe said that his major concern is that the sign debate has “devolved into personal attacks” from Hartsock in both a guest viewpoint in the Cortland Standard and on the village’s Facebook page toward the village board and town and village Historian Martin Sweeney.

McCabe said the board also did not feel comfortable putting Harum’s name on the sign after learning the 1934 movie “David Harum” starring Will Rogers was put in the Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.

“The Will Rogers movie has some of the most egregious and offensive racism that you can ever imagine in a movie,” he said. “It’s pretty gross and not something we think the village should be focusing on going forward. We think it’s time we no longer promote that on the village sign.”

The village also has a number of other historic figures, he said, including three men with connections to Abraham Lincoln, and Amelia Bloomer, who popularized bloomers.

Hartsock said he has never attacked the village board.

“I’ve raised important issues and I see this as his (McCabe’s) way of avoiding the issues I’ve raised,” Hartsock said Monday.