We have a suggestion
about where to go from here with the monuments issue.
1. Defer the issue.
2. Working with the mayor’s office and the council, establish a blue ribbon committee to create a plan about city monuments. At issue would be not just whether the Civil War monuments under fire should go or stay, but also looking at the big picture, including suggestions for future monument development. (Another question could be the feasibility of explanatory signage next to controversial monuments detailing their historic context without necessarily being an endorsement of the politics. A precedent was already set with the Liberty Place monuments.)
3. Members of the committee should be appointed by the mayor’s office, as well as the council and relevant civic groups, as defined by the mayor and council.
4. Give the committee 18 months to return a report. (A year might be an alternative, however during that time there will be a city election and the emergence of a new mayor and new council members who should be given a chance to add their voice to the deliberation.)
5. As part of its process, the committee should also seek rational and informed
At the end of its term the committee should present its report for consideration to the mayor’s office and council.
A Few Thoughts
• This process is patterned after the Blue Ribbon Committee that was created in response to council member Dorothy Mae Taylor’s 1992 Carnival discrimination ordinance. Operating in a contentious climate, the committee was nevertheless able to sift through the issues and created a plan than was ultimately acceptable to all sides.
• Blue Ribbon committees are handy devices for dealing with complex issues because its members are non-paid and have fewer membership restrictions. That, in theory, allows for more expertise among members. The committee has no power other than to make recommendations. That allows the committees to be established quickly and to have flexibility.
• Only one bid was submitted for the removal work on the Civil War monuments. That price ($600,000) was way over what has been budgeted. To try to raise the difference privately would take away money that could be used for more urgent causes. An expenditure of public money would raise many angry questions about priorities.
• Last month, at practically the same time that the bid was being opened to remove the monuments, the city was dedicating a beautiful street improvement effort along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. Haley, a black female, was an early Civil Rights activist. Her name is now on a portion of what was Dryades Street. This is no slum neighborhood; to the contrary it has become one of the hippest re-emerging areas in town so much so that it is even known fashionably as “OCH.” It is possibly to preserve history yet to also memorialize contemporary worthy people.
With the right plan it can be done. At the very least the issue deserves genuine dialogue and, hopefully, an outcome that will not be divisive.
That in itself could be worthy of a monument.