Williamston Family Runs Into 'Politics' In Request For Memorial Plot

By: Liam Martin Email
By: Liam Martin Email

WILLIAMSTON -- "It says, 'My Angel, Taylor.'"

Kirt Smith is looking over a scrapbook of his daughter, Taylor Smith, the 15-year-old Williamston-area girl who took her own life Feb. 24, overwhelmed by bullying.

"She had a beautiful voice, she loved to play soccer, she was good at school," Smith told News 10 on Thursday. "Just a gorgeous, gorgeous girl."

And now, he and Taylor's godfather, Dan Norton, want to commemorate her life at McCormick Park in downtown Williamston. Their plan is to plant a weeping cherry tree, Taylor's favorite, along the river and place a plaque at its base.

"To have it here has a ton of significance because of the way Taylor lived her life," Norton said. "She loved the outdoors."

Only problem is, some members of the city council have been stalling the effort, according to Smith and Norton.

"Right away, they were all on board," Smith said. "They said, 'Yep, you can have it. Yep, you can have it.' They voted for it unanimously."

But then Wednesday night one member of the Parks and Recreation commission rejected the plan (which effectively sends the issue back to the council), saying the tree isn't a native species to mid-Michigan.

"Some trees thrive [in flood plains], like a weeping willow," said City Manager Tim Allard, who didn't vote but did push for Parks and Rec to have a say on the proposal. "Others won't last but a season or two in flooded conditions,"

But Allard says he and the council are working with Smith and Norton, and noted he has no doubts the proposal will pass if the family is willing to choose a different tree.

Mayor Michelle Van Wert, though, says that's no excuse to hold up the process.

"Bullying is a serious issue, and people need to put aside their personal agendas and really reflect on awareness and the impact on our family and our youth," she said Thursday.

Smith and Norton, meanwhile, say they're willing to plant a different tree.

For now, they're worried the plaque won't be up by early May, when they plan to hold a rally at McCormick Park against bullying and in honor of Taylor.

"We're just asking for a 2-foot by 2-foot space and a tree -- is all we're asking for," Kirt said.

He and Norton plan to meet with the council again soon.

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