The divisive issues around moving the Confederate monument from Munn Park to Veterans Park continued to divide Lakeland city commissioners Friday, with some suggesting voters should have a say during a January special election and others insisting they were elected to make tough but potentially unpopular decisions that benefit the community.
Commissioners discuss the monument again today when they will be asked toward the end of their 3 p.m. meeting to make a budget transfer to facilitate the monument move.
Commissioners have until Wednesday at the latest to place the issue on the ballot for the Jan. 15 special election called to select a replacement for recently resigned Commissioner Michael Dunn, City Attorney Tim McCausland said. A vote to put the issue on the ballot would have to come either at today’s commission meeting or a special meeting held in the next two days.
The budget request being considered today was prompted by a series of votes the commission made at a work session two weeks ago to use red-light camera fees that have been held in reserve to fund several projects, including the monument move and a homelessness initiative.
But Commissioner Scott Franklin, who questioned the propriety of that vote at a meeting two weeks ago, continued raising questions Friday.
He said he is hearing from a lot of constituents who feel the commission breached their trust by reversing an earlier decision to rely on private fund-raising to move the monument. He added that the Nov. 2 vote to proceed with the monument move “was not representative of who the people voted in.”
He also said, “I think it would be fair to argue that if Commissioner Dunn were here instead of Commissioner Selvage, the vote to use the red-light camera money would not have passed.”
Dunn was elected to the commission on Dec. 5 last year, a day after the commission voted 4-3 to move the monument. His runoff victory was seen by some as a show of support for keeping the monument in place since Dunn had been a strong advocate; opponent Larry Durrence, who far outpolled Dunn in the four-man initial race, favored moving it.
Selvage recently returned to the commission after nearly a year’s absence when the other commissioners voted 5-1 Oct. 26 to appoint him to fill a vacancy created when Dunn resigned after being indicted on a second-degree murder charge. Selvage will serve until a new commissioner is selected in the Jan. 15 special election; he does not plan to run in that election.
Commissioner Bill Read said Friday he might not have voted for Selvage as Dunn’s replacement had he known that the commission would be voting on funding for monument. “I think you’re somewhat biased because you did donate money for the relocation of it,” Read said.
The vote Read referred to was the 4-3 decision Nov. 2 to use up to $225,000 in red-light camera fees to pay for the monument move. Selvage joined Mayor Bill Mutz and Commissioners Justin Troller and Phillip Walker in favoring the expenditure.
After that decision, it was decided that the commission needs to vote at a formal meeting on the transfer of funds from a red-light camera reserve into the city’s general fund; that’s the issue coming before the commission today.
The pending vote caused Franklin to ask on Friday whether it will take a 5-2 decision rather than a simple majority since use of red-light funds contradicts a unanimous May vote to use only private funds to move the monument. “Some people will challenge it if it passes less than 5 to 2,” Franklin said.
City Attorney Tim McCausland said he will review the wording of the appropriation document and determine before today’s meeting whether a 5-2 vote is needed.
City Manager Tony Delgado pointed out that the issue the commission is voting on today is simply a budget transfer, not a policy decision: “This is just moving money. That’s all it does.”
Mutz said he feels that even if it’s determined five votes are needed to pass the budget transfer on Monday, he feels confident that the votes will be there.
Regarding the prospect of putting the issue on the ballot, Mutz emphasized the role of leadership in a representative form of government: “First fact is leadership is lonely and there’s many times in life we have to lead when we aren’t necessarily going to get a lot of affirmation from leading. But what’s imperative is that we do the right thing … Because we care what people think — everyone — so we care what a veteran thinks about it being in Veterans Park and we care what a minority person thinks about it being in Munn Park … There is no solution that does a better job of really, truly caring what everybody thinks than that.”
Troller, who earlier called for a public vote, now says he just wants to get the issue and its divisiveness behind.
Monument discussion at Friday’s agenda study:
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