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God going on wall of Turlock chamber

TURLOCK — The City Council soon will conduct business with the words "In God We Trust" inscribed on a wall behind the council dais.

The council voted 5-0 to place those words behind them and "We The People" — the opening words of the preamble to the Constitution — on the front of the podium used by the public to address the council.

Councilman Kurt Spycher will pay for the cost to put "In God We Trust" on the wall, and Councilman Ted Howze will pay for "We The People."

Before the unanimous council vote, Councilwoman Mary Jackson asked whether the city should have the issue reviewed by a constitutional law lawyer before proceeding.

City Attorney Phaedra Norton replied there is a precedent for local governments placing "In God We Trust" in council chambers, saying the motto can be found in cities across the nation and in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two people from the audience raised questions about using "In God We Trust" in the council chambers. That's a stark contrast from September, when the council unanimously passed a resolution that allows for prayers before the opening of meetings despite an appeal from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a letter to the city in August asking the council to halt the practice, calling such prayers "unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive."

That issue, the origin of the move to place "In God We Trust" in the council chamber, drew heated debate.

A council committee has been working with artists on how to inscribe "In God We Trust" on the wall.

The council Tuesday also advanced a long-running issue, voting 5-0 to seek new bids on the Carnegie Arts Center renovation and expansion project.

The city sought and received bids for the arson-damaged center earlier this year, but rejected all 15 bids in August after one bidder threatened to sue.

Without comment, the council approved seeking bids for a second time, and no one from the public spoke about the project.

In the first bidding process, the city received four protests against low bidder Applegate Johnston of Modesto, asserting its proposal "was not completed in accordance with certain aspects of the labor code," according to a city staff report.

The report said there was some validity to the protests and the city could face litigation from the other bidders if it accepted the low bid.

The 15 bids on the project came in below the city's $7.8 million estimate, from $5.28 million to $6.2 million. About $4.5 million in funding for the project would come from the city's Redevelopment Agency.

The Carnegie Arts Center was damaged by an arson fire in November 2005.

At the time, the center, home to classes, exhibitions, poetry readings, concerts and plays, was undergoing a small renovation.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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