Court Dismisses Suit Attempting to Halt Relocation of Confederate Monument

The much-debated city saga of the fate of the 109-year-old Confederate monument in Munn Park continues to drag on: most recently, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by groups and individuals who want it to stay put.

City Attorney Tim McCausland said Tuesday afternoon he and City Manager Tony Delgado will brief city commissioners soon so that they can decide how and when to proceed..

In November, commissioners voted to move the statue by Jan. 31 using money the city draws in from the use of red-light cameras to pay for the monument to be relocated. Plans were to pay an estimated $225,000 to move it to Veteran’s Memorial Park and install security measures.

But the day after the final city vote, a group called Save Southern Heritage filed a federal lawsuit to stop the city from moving the monument. The group was joined by other individuals and some Confederacy-related organizations in suing Delgado and several commissioners.

McCausland said recently that the suit would slow, but not stop, the plan to move the monument. “In light of the activity in court, we sort of hit the pause button on relocation of the monument. Some administrative things such as engineering and maybe permitting are being taken care of,” McCausland said at a City Commission agenda preview meeting.

Delgado said then that the city had been working with a contractor and in-house staff to prepare for the move, prepping Veterans Park and evaluating what is required to refurbish Munn Park following the relocation.

The now-dismissed lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Virginia Covington, who asked Magistrate Julie Snead to conduct a hearing to gather evidence. That hearing was scheduled for Feb. 5.

In Covington’s 18-page, Jan. 28 dismissal ruling, the monument was described as a “massive, 26-foot, two-story, 14-ton Cenotaph – which is defined as ‘a tomb-like monument to someone buried elsewhere, especially one commemorating people who died in the war.'”

The monument has a 9′ by 9’ base dimension and is engraved with the words “Confederate Dead” and features a poem and images of the Confederate flag.

Covington noted in her decision that funds to be used to move the monument are not generated from taxes — one of the criticisms from those opposed to its move. “The revenue from the red light camera program comes from citations to those who run red lights, not from taxes,” she said.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, McCausland said the city argued that the plaintiffs do not have the proper standing and lacked the authority to prevent a local government from carrying out its plans.

Addressing the plaintiff’s issue that moving the privately funded statue violated their free speech, Covington noted, “Here, although a private organization funded the Cenotaph, the City approved the monument’s placement in Munn Park. Thus, the Cenotaph is government speech.”

Covington said in her ruling that “even if plaintiffs had standing, defendants argue that plaintiffs can not establish the deprivation of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest because the Cenotaph is government speech.”

Covington also addressed the relocation of the monument: “Because the Cenotaph is government’s speech and not plaintiff’s speech, plaintiffs lack a liberty interest in the Cenotaph and thus cannot state a procedural due process claim based on the memorial’s relocation.”

Attorney David McAllister of Tampa, who filed the suit, told The Ledger the plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision in the federal courts and also seek relief in state court.

The monument’s current residence lately came into question in the fall of 2015, when a local resident told commissioners that its location in the city’s central square doesn’t represent the Lakeland of the 21st Century. Other individuals voiced similar concerns at City Commission meetings over the next year.

Momentum gathered in 2017 when numerous Confederate statues were moved in cities throughout the South after a woman protesting a white-supremacy rally was killed in Charlottesville, Va., and after a mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C.

Lakeland commissioners voted in December 2017 to move the statue and decided the following May that the destination would be Veterans Park.

Full text of the lawsuit:

 

The plaintiff’s Facebook response to the dismissal:

(Response image screenshot 5:30 p.m. EST on Jan 29th, 2019)