When city commissioners convene a town hall meeting later this month to hear comments about the Munn Park Confederate monument, it will be open to anybody who wants to comment rather than focusing on “stakeholder organizations.”
That was the consensus this afternoon when commissioners discussed the issue briefly near the end of a six-hour-plus business meeting.
A date and place for the meeting has not been set yet. City Manager Tony Delgado is polling commissioners on whether they prefer the evening of Monday, Oct. 16, or the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 24.
When commissioners last discussed the monument Sept. 5, they asked Delgado to invite representatives of key organizations to make presentations at a mid-October public meeting.
That had been the recommendation of City Commissioner Don Selvage. But when Delgado today asked for guidance on organizations to invite, Selvage said he agreed that there are few local experts on monuments and he now thinks the meeting should be more open.
In order to keep the discussion on track, Selvage suggested asking speakers to make their case for one of six options he outlined:
- Retain the monument as it is.
- Place an interpretive plaque at the site, telling the story of the monument.
- Erect other monuments in Munn Park that tell the story of others who contributed to Lakeland’s history.
- Remove the statue from all public spaces, offering it to a private owner.
- Place the statue in another city-owned venue such as Veterans Park, Roselawn Cemetery or the Lakeland Public Library.
- Include the monument in a heritage park as one of various monuments that tell Lakeland’s history. One possible site would be near the volunteerism sculpture at Lake Mirror.
Other commissioners mentioned a possible seventh option: Hold a referendum and let the public vote.
Selvage said he thinks it’s important that the current commission make a decision and not leave it for the next commission to be seated in January.
At least three of the seven commissioners are leaving office at the end of the year. They are Mayor Howard Wiggs, Selvage and Commissioner Edie Yates. A fourth commissioner, Jim Malless, faces re-election opposition, so it’s unclear whether he will return after the Nov. 7 election.
The monument to Confederate soldiers was provided by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in the center of Munn Park in 1910.
In recent years, several residents asked the commission to move the statue, saying it is divisive and should be in a museum setting rather than the focus of the city center. Commissioners listened but did not vote on those requests.
But in August, Selvage told his fellow commissioners that the national debate about Confederate monuments that followed clashes in Charlottesville, Va., compel the Lakeland commission to discuss the issue and make a decision.
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