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Sun., Dec. 21
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Clock tower lights dispute continues

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The flap over green lights in the First Baptist Church’s clock tower on Public Square is not over.

The issue surfaced in March when city of Watertown officials allowed green floodlights to be installed in the clock tower to help promote the North Country Goes Green Irish Festival.

But the Rev. Jeffrey E. Smith balked at having the city-owned clock promote the Irish festival because it gave people the perception he and his church condone the consumption of beer at the event.

In a letter last week, the church’s lawyer, Stephen W. Gebo, said the city does not have a legal right to change the color of the clock tower lights, according to a 2007 agreement.

The church owns the tower while the city owns the clock. According to the 2007 lease agreement, it allows the city access only to maintain, repair and replace the clock. It does not have a right to install colored lights, Mr. Gebo wrote.

“In his view, and that of his parishioners, the church is a house of worship; it should not be used as a billboard to commemorate various groups and holidays,” Mr. Gebo wrote.

The attorney also contended that the city would discriminate against other groups if it does not light the clock tower for Columbus Day, Cinco de Mayo, Fourth of July and Martin Luther King Day, or other charities and causes.

In his letter, Mr. Gebo also asked for clarification of the 2007 agreement that would spell out clearly that the city’s rights “are limited to access” only to the clock.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he believes the issue will come up at Monday night’s City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the third-floor council chambers in City Hall, 245 Washington St.

He agreed with the church that it would open the floodgates for other requests the city would be forced to honor.

“I would leave it white,” Mr. Graham said.

The three-day Irish festival is a fundraiser for several organizations and charitable causes. It originally was organized to raise money to bring children from Northern Ireland to the north country during the summer.

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