The City of Fairmont denied a request this week for the bereaved family to hold outdoor services for local civil rights leader Amy Rose Parks.
Parks’ daughter, Romelia Hodges, had requested to hold Mrs. Parks’ memorial service outdoors at Fairmont’s Windmill Park on Thursday.
Fairmont City Attorney Kevin Sansalone and City Manager Valerie Means denied Hodges’ request to hold the services despite appeals from the Fairmont mayor, the County Health Department administrator, a list of locally-elected government representatives and the governor’s office.
It seems at least Sansalone and Means have little or no regard for the contributions Amy Rose Parks made for Fairmont, Marion County and yes, the country.
Parks was part of negotiations in Iran with Ayatollah Khomeini to help free American hostages. She guided national civil rights policy and testified before Congress. She helped implement change that bought about free school lunches, free textbooks and clothing vouchers for low-income children.
Locally, she was a founding member of Meals on Wheels, involved with Marion County Rescue Squad and Soup Opera, a driving force behind the formation of the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission and helped build Fairmont’s Windmill Park.
But those accomplishments were not good enough for some city officials to find a way to approve the memorial request. Apparently neither were the behests of Fairmont’s mayor, Brad Merrifield, who advocated on the family’s behalf, yet had his efforts fall on deaf ears.
Sansalone repeatedly refused to comment on the decision earlier in the week. Means has been absent from work this week on personal leave, according to her assistant. But, on Friday the city manager’s office finally provided a written statement. The letter stated in part, “The application for such an event was denied through the normal Special Event application process, which requires approval from several department heads and staff, due to the estimated crowd size for the event of more than 40 people. Currently, due to COVID-19, we are only allowing our pavilions at all parks to be rented for groups of 25 or less. This COVID rule is specific to the pavilions, the use of which is what was specifically requested for the funeral services, and was stated to the applicants on several occasions beginning on Aug. 7, 2020.
And yet, two noted state officials were critical of the city’s handling of the request. Clay Marsh, West Virginia University’s vice president for health sciences and the state’s coronavirus czar. Marsh said Hodges is a “very knowledgeable person” who’s “done everything completely by the book” and that she’s “done the right things.” Marsh said Hodges’ “thought process is completely correct” regarding holding a socially-distanced memorial service outside.
Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said all manner of events are being held outside and are permitted as long as COVID-19 protocols are followed. “No one should have to go through what you’re going through to bury your mother,” said Crouch. “It’s unconscionable.” Crouch noted, “We have fairs. We have carnivals. We have wrestling matches. We have folks doing baptisms in front of courthouses on Saturday night with groups. There is every type of event out there that you can imagine people doing, so to say you can’t have a funeral for your mother outdoors…”
The decision to deny the outdoor memorial request was disgraceful. It’s difficult to believe the city could not find some way to allow the memorial to take place in the city park.
What could have been a feel-good story about the City of Fairmont working with some of its people to hold a much-deserved memorial service for a local civil-rights icon, instead has left it scrambling to deal with harsh criticism and questions of disparity and even racism.