A $1,000 donation to Gahanna Lincoln High School's Honor Flight program prompted heated debate during Gahanna City Council's Monday night committee-of-the-whole meeting.

A $1,000 donation to Gahanna Lincoln High School's Honor Flight program prompted heated debate during Gahanna City Council's Monday night committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Honor Flight is a program the high school's broadcast-video class started and involves sending World War II veterans to Washington, D.C.

Emotions began to flare after council member John McAlister said he was concerned about the precedent a $1,000 donation might set.

"I think council, before it spends taxpayer dollars, should consider what sort of precedent we are setting," he said. "Is that the purpose of our government, to provide charity? I'm not against honoring veterans."

He continued: "Where do you draw the line? And I think you draw the line (at) what is the purpose of our government in the first place. The first purpose is to protect our rights, and the second purpose is to pave the streets" and provide other necessary services.

McAlister's comments prompted a response from Brig. Gen. James Williams, the city's director of emergency operations.

"I would like to make a comment," Williams said. "This is not charity. This is far from charity. Don't even put this in the same ballpark as charity. To do that demeans every veteran out there. They are not asking for charity. This is an Honor Flight. This is honoring World War II veterans."

Williams pointed to the WWII veterans memorial in front of the high school. Like the honor flight, "It's not charity," he said. "It's recognition for people who lost their lives defending their country."

Generally speaking, Williams said, he agrees with McAlister. Council should think twice about making donations to charity.

"This is not a charity," he said.

Councilwoman Beryl Anderson also expressed concerns, saying she wanted to make sure the Gahanna donation is used only to provide funding for Gahanna residents.

"If you're donating money to people for something that they can't afford, that is the definition of charity," McAlister said.

Councilman Tom Kneeland disagreed.

"I don't see this as anything other than an extension of our senior services," Kneeland said, adding that he supports the measure.

Council president Tom Evers last week asked council to discuss in committee the possibility of supporting the Honor Flight.

Gahanna Lincoln television and public-speaking teacher Tom Gregory had made a presentation on the Honor Flight program. His students led the drive to raise money for the WWII memorial in front of the high school. They have been raising money for a few years to pay for sending veterans to Washington. About $300 pays for the trip for a single veteran.

Gahanna students have made a few trips, and they now want to raise $11,000 or $12,000 to fund an entire flight.

The students already have raised most of the money, Gregory said. Blacklick Elementary School students and staff alone raised $2,400, he has said.

Two of Gregory's students have served as guardians for a veteran. The guardians help the veterans get around and keep them company.

Evers said that according to estimates from the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, about 250 WWII veterans live in Gahanna.

Council is expected to consider the issue again during its Feb. 8 meeting. The measure would require only one reading and a vote by council for the donation to be approved.

To see video of Gahanna Lincoln's WGLH-TV programs, including the Honor Flight program, visit ThisWeekNews.com.

gvickers@thisweeknews.com