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Benton Council to revisit Beatles mural project

By Rick Hayes
Contributing Writer
Posted on 7/19/2017, 5:00 AM

The on-again, off-again George Harrison mural art project in Benton is apparently on yet again.
California artist John Cerney offered to donate the mural commemorating the former Beatle's first visit to America. However, during a recent city council meeting, members denied payment of Cerney's estimated expenses of no more than $2,200.
Cerney told city officials he would donate the $20,000 mural to the city. In return, he asked city officials to find a location and cover his travel costs. Cerney thought he had an agreement through Mayor Fred Kondritz and Rachel Gartner, the city's public information coordinator. Cerney said the agreement was reached either in late March or early April.
However, when the subject came up nearly a month ago at a council meeting, the matter was tabled. City officials said then it was to clarify details with Cerney, including a possible contract. When the subject came up again early last week during an "old business" agenda item, the council rejected Cerney's expenses by a 3-1 vote. The mayor was absent. Councilman Dennis Miller was the lone dissenting vote.
Council members reasoned the mural would have no financial benefit to the city, and one member voiced his dislike for the Beatles.
Since that time, city officials have been in contact with Cerney, indicating funding for the project may come from an alternative source rather than the city's general fund.
Finance Commissioner Dennis Miller said the city receives $4,000 annually from its trash hauler, Republic, designated for community projects.
"This should redirect the council's thinking since it won't affect the city's general budget," Miller said.
Gartner said the funding will have to get council approval.
"I believe the council will revisit the issue," Gartner said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to work this out."
Gartner said some city officials were aware that Cerney had started work on the mural shortly after the oral agreement was reached.
In correspondence with this newspaper, Cerney stated that he in fact has completed the project. He also indicated the donation is permanent. An earlier article implied the mural would only be in the city for one year.
"Once a year, I donate a project to a (different) community and my murals last anywhere from 10 to 15 years," Cerney wrote. "Whether the city council are Harrison or Beatles fans or not, thousands of people will stop and take photos of the mural and a good amount of them will stop in Benton and spend money. That's happened with all of my murals over the years."
Gartner suggested the mural be visible from Interstate 57 and recommended it be placed on city-owned property near the Benton Municipal Airport.
One council member suggested visitors will not travel east of the interstate into Benton. Donnie Wyant said at the most recent council meeting, "We know where they're going to go," suggesting another town (without mentioning West City) will reap the economic benefits of the mural.
The location has not been finalized, according to Miller. He said several locations within the city limits are under consideration.