Debate over safety center name heats up

May 10, 2010 3:42:29 PM PDT
At first it was just the cost, but now it's the name that's touching emotions on the public safety center planned for the city of Raleigh.

The bizarre part of the debate is the public safety building may not even get built. City council is deadlocked on it, and it's dead in the water until that changes

Forget the $200 million price tag and forget the controversial 17-story design, it's the name Clarence Lightner Public Safety Center that now has people fired up.

Raleigh police detective Kevin Rooker suggested a name change and set up a Facebook site to get people on board. Instead of naming the building after Lightner, Raleigh's first and only black mayor, Rooker suggested honoring someone who'd spent a lifetime in emergency services.

It brought a firestorm of criticism with racial undertones.

But Lightner's son, Bruce, told ABC11 he was content to leave it alone.

"If I thought this was a serious threat to my father's name and legacy a broader community response would be in order," he wrote. "At the moment, let's just let Rooker be off his rocker."

But Lightner sent a much different letter to Rooker, in which he said:

"If you think we'll allow you to try and destroy the legacy and contributions of the late Mayor Clarence Lightner, think again."

He went on to say, if Rooker didn't back down, his "employ with the city could come into greater scrutiny."

Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen says Bruce Lightner doesn't have any influence over city personnel matters, but he says the city is investigating a complaint Lightner made about an online posting he called threatening, that he said might have come from within the police department.

"Depending on what we find, if there's any violation of city policy, then the city would take appropriate actions," said Allen.

Detective Rooker has since sent Bruce Lightner a letter of apology and taken down the Facebook page. But, Lightner says he won't accept the apology unless it's made in person.

So despite a letter of apology, it appears this isn't over.

However it plays out, though, Allen say the name Lightner Center isn't likely to change.

Allen declined to say if Rooker is facing any kind of disciplinary action - and if so, for what. The city says it's a private personnel matter. But ABC11 can report that Rooker's status with the department is unchanged and he's on active duty.

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