One of the losers in Tuesday’s Lakeland elections appears to be the movement to relocate a Confederate monument from the center of the town square to a place of honor elsewhere in the city.

While a majority of the current city commissioners have indicated they want to keep the statue in the center of Munn Park, there had been a possibility that the new commission that will be seated in January would favor a relocation.

That possibility looks remote now. At least two who were elected Tuesday are lukewarm at best to the relocation idea.

But isn’t the commission going to take public comment and decide the monument issue Dec. 4? one might ask.

Yes, but it became clear Friday that a majority of the current commissioners favors keeping the statue in place and possibly place other monuments nearby that commemorate Lakeland’s history and ethnic diversity.

The vote Dec. 4 will be on a measure being drafted by the City Attorney’s Office that would direct the city staff to update the Munn Park plan to keep the Confederate statue in place but include more monuments in and near the park and provide a method for funding them.

The Munn Park issue will come before the new commissioners eventually because they’ll need to review updates to the park plan and approve any public funding for new monuments.

And one of the commissioners could bring up the monument issue at any time if they thought they had the votes to make a change.

But there’s no sure bet the votes are there. Don Selvage and Jim Malless, the two commissioners who have argued most fervently that a divisive monument needs to be displayed somewhere other than the city center, will leave office at the end of December.

Among the three sitting commissioners who will remain in office in January, only Justin Troller has said he favors moving the monument. Troller, who is  midway through his third and final term on the commission, remained silent through most discussions on the statue during the last two years and finally took a stand Friday when it was clear the commission was headed for a vote.

The other current commissioners, Phillip Walker and Bill Read, have been consistent in their support for keeping the monument in place. Walker, the board’s only African-American member, is fond of saying that moving the statue won’t change what’s in a man’s heart.

The newly elected commissioners were asked for their views on relocating the Confederate monument, among other issues, in a questionnaire from LkldNow. See their answers here. Among the new commissioners:

  • Scott Franklin registered himself as undecided, but in his expanded comments said he’s “personally not in favor, but interested to hear community input” at pubic meetings.
  • Stephanie Madden also registered herself as undecided, but in her expanded comments supported Ashley Troutman’s “compromise” plan that would keep the statue in place but add other monuments. Madden said, “I would like to erect more artwork in our city square, to continue our story and celebrate our diversity.”
  • Bill Mutz wrestled with the issue during his successful campaign for mayor, but ultimately decided relocation could help bring unity. Asked whether he would vote to relocate the monument, he said, “Yes. I believe in healthy discussions that increase understanding as we hear the hearts of others.  The monument reflects history and honors those who gave their lives to defend their cause.  Giving your life to defend your country should be honored.  Yet, the monument reminds other members of our community of the pain of defending that very same cause.  A public space should celebrate the best aspect of our city – all its people.  If we choose to relocate the monument, I’d also be in favor of adding plaques discussing that story and why we chose to do so for the greater good.  The best opportunity we have to unify Lakeland is to honor all.”
  • The candidates in the Dec. 5 runoff for the Southwest District seat on the commission are split on the issue. Michael Dunn favors Troutman’s plan. Larry Durrence said we shouldn’t allow the statue to divide the community but also said the a plan like Troutman’s could be an alternative.

So by my count, even if Durrence is elected, there are probably three commissioners disposed toward voting to relocate the monument — Troller, Mutz and Durrence — one short of the four-vote majority needed to make a change.

A few caveats:

  • Maybe I’m misreading one of the new commissioners.
  • Maybe the new mayor, who wants to demonstrate that Lakeland can have a strong leader without having a strong mayor, will put some vigor into this issue as a signal he’s building for Lakeland’s future.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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    1. It sounds like he is simply looking at what the city commissioners have said publicly and is trying to project what might happen.

      That’s a fair analysis.

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