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Lakeland city commissioners considered three options this morning for getting public input on the emotional issue of what — if anything — to do with the Confederate monument in Munn Park:
- Hold a town hall meeting where anybody with an opinion could speak.
- Invite interested organizations to present their views at a public meeting.
- Put the issue to a public vote on the Nov. 7 election ballot.
In the end, they chose a hybrid. Commissioners voted unanimously to have City Manager Tony Delgado invite key organizations to present their views at a public meeting to be held by mid-October.
Commissioner Don Selvage made the motion after Mayor Howard Wiggs commented that most residents would find their opinion represented by the invited organizations.
Commissioner Phillip Walker seconded the motion, but sought clarification from Selvage that individuals would be able to comment at the meeting if they felt their views weren’t covered by the invited participants.
No date or place has been set for the public meeting, although commissioners acknowledged that the meeting will need to be held somewhere larger than their City Hall chambers, which seats 112 audience members.
Likewise, no decisions have been made on which groups will be invited to speak. Delgado said he’ll likely make that call. During the meeting, Walker mentioned organizations such as the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, Lakeland Economic Development Council, Downtown Lakeland Partnership and the Neighborhood Association Coalition.
Commissioners have heard from several residents in the last two years who have asked that the monument be removed, but have not voted on the issue. Selvage said last month that after the clashes over monuments around the Southeast, he and his fellow city commissioners are obligated to start a public conversation and then vote on the fate of the monument.
Today’s vote came during a meeting in which a dozen residents aired opinions ranging from keeping the monument in place to moving it to another location to building other cultural monuments around it.
The latter idea was promoted by Ashley Troutman, a 36-year-old insurance broker and civic volunteer who requested a spot on the City Commission agenda to discuss the monument. (View video of Troutman’s presentation.)
Saying the monument never bothered him while growing up as an African-American in Lakeland, Troutman suggested keeping it in place but adding a second monument in Munn Park commemorating “those that also suffered and died honorably for causes like freedom from slavery and freedom from oppression by Jim Crow laws.”
“We believe this option creates the best opportunity to promote unity, not division; hope, not despair; understanding, not forgetting,” he said.
Troutman said he represents a small group of people who have been meeting for about a year to forge “the proper response” to the Confederate memorial. The new monument, he said, would be paid for by a mixture of public and largely private funds.
Troutman began his presentation by quoting from the speech given at the monument’s dedication on June 3, 1910, by Park Trammell, who was then Florida’s attorney general and a former Lakeland mayor. (He later became governor of Florida and a U.S. Senator.)
The 12-page, typewritten speech was found in the Park Trammell Papers archive at the University of Florida and provided in August to Sheila Tindle, an officer with the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The speech, written in flowery language typical of the early 20th Century, pays homage to Confederate warriors and the women who preserved their memory. (Scroll to the end of this article to read the full text.)
The Munn Park monument is topped by a statue of an anonymous Confederate soldier facing east, his weapon at rest.
The commission’s decision to invite “stakeholders” to present at a public views was criticized by a speaker later in the meeting.
“I feel like I’ve just been told my voice doesn’t matter,” said Jeffrey Brown, who identified himself as a Lakeland resident and a historian who wants to see the monument stay where it is. He said he had not heard of most of the organizations Walker suggested and added, “How is my voice going to be heard?”
Here is Twitter coverage about the monument from this morning’s City Commission meeting, followed by the text of Park Trammell’s address at the 1910 dedication.
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