UFOs Have Landed on the Courthouse Lawn (Unidentified Flashing Objects)

The Planet's standing joke-news-item has always been UFOs LAND ON COURTHOUSE LAWN. As in: I don't care if UFOs land on the courthouse lawn, pal, I'm done for the week. Well, on Monday, UFOs sort of did.

Unidentified flashing objects, that is. Twin ultramodern LED signs materialized overnight on two sides of the historic Dade courthouse.

Yes. The chatty, computer-controlled LED signs that were already informing motorists that local clinics are TAKING NEW PATIENTS, that local churches want them to COME WORSHIP WITH US, and that funeral homes are holding GRAVESIDE SERVICES AT 2 PM are now WELCOMING US ALL TO THE CITY OF TRENTON. Modernity has come even to downtown Trenton, on no less venerable a spot than the historic county courthouse.

The signs have generated screams of protest and exclamations of bewilderment, but Dade Public Library manager Marshana Sharp says she's heard cries of astonishment and delight, too. "I've had three people come in and tell me they loved the signs," she said by phone on Tuesday.

The Planet had called Ms. Sharp to ascertain that the signs were, in fact, the library's. Ms. Sharp verified The Planet's surmise that the signs were one component of the $60,000 state MMR grant the library was awarded last year through the Cherokee Regional Library, of which it is a branch.

Ms. Sharp explained that MMR grants--she wasn't sure what the acronym stood for except that two of the letters were for "maintenance" and "repair"--could only be used for certain purposes. The library had originally planned to use part of the money to redo its parking area, but it was determined there wasn't enough space to fulfill the plan. Some of the money was used to build the library's new recording studio, which Ms. Sharp hopes to have ready to show off in the next couple of weeks. Some of it went for new lighting and flooring.

And some of it--about $20,000, Ms. Sharp estimates--went for the signs. Signage was one of the specific purposes the state money could be spent for, and library leadership thought they'd be a good way to announce library events and other community happenings. "People are always telling us, 'Oh, we didn't know you were doing this,'" said Ms. Sharp.

Ms. Sharp (right, in a file shot) said that once the signs are programmed properly, they can be used by any civic group to announce their community events. Forms will be available online and at the library. "We'll try to make it as simple as we can," she said.

If some people find the signs intrusive, Ms. Sharp reminds them that they should anyway reduce the number of posters and placards dotted here and there announcing this and that. "There won't be any need for them anymore," she said.

And for those who question the expense, Ms. Sharp reminds them that the MMR grant had been quite specific about what it could be used for. "We could have said no and given the money back to Walker County," she said.

Finally, for those of us who dislike the encroachment of modernity of any kind into our peaceful bucolic backwater, well! We have had, anyway, the long-awaited satisfaction of writing: "UFOs have landed on the courthouse lawn."

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