The Iowa Standard talked with two Centerville residents who attended Monday night’s city council meeting, which included a brief time for public comments regarding the city moving a nativity scene from the town square to privately owned property.
“It was a joke,” said pastor Tony Angran. “Before anybody ever said anything, they already determined it was going to be nine days. It’s a joke. Oh, are they going to have a council meeting on Christmas Day? Nine days from (Monday) is Christmas, the 25th.”
Kathy Perry was escorted out of the meeting. Her departing message?
“Communism at its finest,” she said as she was forced to leave.
“I felt like I needed to fight for God,” Perry said. “That’s exactly why I did it. I felt like I needed to stand up for God. I felt like we were fighting evil. I got heated. They escorted me out alright, but it was worth it because I could not have gone to bed that night had I not done something.”
Prior to the beginning of the council meeting, Perry said mayor Mike O’Connor made it clear his time was limited on Monday night.
“Cameras were setting up, so nothing was recorded,” she said. “The mayor sat right there and was telling everybody, ‘hopefully this won’t be too long, we’ve got a football game to watch.’ I didn’t even realize it was Monday Night Football. I should’ve known then.”
Regardless of what was said during the public discussion, Perry said it wasn’t going to matter.
“It was over before we even got there,” she said. “They pretty much already had it planned what they were going to do. I think they thought that they’d just let a few of us talk and then that would satisfy us. I think that is what they thought. I think they had no intention of ever putting that nativity back.”
Talk around town, Perry said, has picked up about the issue.
“There are a lot of people who are PO’d,” she said. “Facebook has kind of been lighting up. Locals around here are talking about how these people need voted out. They didn’t care, they didn’t give anybody a chance — the atheists won. But, you know, the one person complained and got their way.”
One of the sticking points for Angran and Perry is the fact it remains unknown who, or what group, complained to councilman Jay Dillard. And whether Dillard was the individual who made the complaint or part of the group that complained.
Rumors in the town, however, are swirling about Dillard’s involvement. To be clear, The Iowa Standard has attempted to contact Dillard, but the phone number listed for him online is no longer connected. We sent him an email, but it has not garnered a response.
“You can’t say anything or do anything unless you know for a fact,” Perry said. “But if it’s true, it would be an abuse of power. I just wish they’d put it back. Everybody enjoyed it. I don’t care if these other religions want to put something on the square. I think that’s great. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to look at it. But give us a chance.”
Angran has been in contact with Liberty Counsel. The group said if the nativity scene is returned to the square, and there is a legal challenge, Liberty Counsel would fight the battle and Centerville would not have to spend a dime.
The council and mayor, though, didn’t seem to care.
Perry also said members of the decoration committee were never asked about adding more decorations so the nativity scene would be OK.
“If they had known they needed to put more, they said they would’ve put more on there,” she said. “They were never once told. There’s plenty of other decorations up there. That’s what I don’t understand. Constitutionally, I’m pretty sure we were OK.”
Perry has concerns about where this decision will lead.
“If you allow the city to take that right away from you, what is the next thing they are going to do,” she asked. “What are they going to take away from you next time? I just felt like we needed to stand up for our beliefs. I just felt like I had to do that.”
Angran said after the meeting he approached city administrator Jason Fraser to let him know the issue isn’t settled. Angran gave Fraser papers from Liberty Counsel that he had copies of for each council member.
“I handed it to (Fraser) and he took it and put it on his table like, ‘so,’” Angran said. “Oh man, I’ll tell you, if these people get re-elected it’ll be amazing because they’re terrible.”