Historic Panel Approves Moving Confederate Monument

The effort to move a 108-year-old Confederate monument from the center of Munn Park passed another benchmark today. Lakeland’s Historic Preservation Board Design Review Committee voted unanimously to approve the city’s request to move the monument.

The intended destination: Veterans Park. When city commissioners approved the new location in May, they specified that the move be funded by private donations, not tax dollars. Mayor Bill Mutz has begun a concerted effort to raise $200,000 in donations by Aug. 31.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans will consider whether to appeal today’s decision in Circuit Court, David McCallister of Tampa said after the vote.

Here’s a look at today’s vote and some background:

How did we get here? Former Lakeland City Commissioner Don Sevage called for a discussion on the future of the 26-foot-tall monument last summer after violence at a Confederate monument in Charlottsville, Va., animated cities around the South to question the role of those monuments. The commission voted 4-3 in December to relocate the monument, and in May a new group of commissioners decided that Veterans Park would be the best location. The city petitioned the Historic Preservation Board to approve the relocation since that board has jurisdiction over changes in the Munn Park Historic District.

Here is the report presented to the committee today by the city’s historic preservation specialist:

Who voted? The Design Review Committee, which is made up of seven of the 10 members of the Lakeland Historic Preservation Board. Members of the preservation board are appointed by city commissioners.

What was the vote? The committee unanimously approved a motion by member Lynn Dennis to approve the city manager’s request for the removal and relocation of the Confederate monument from the Munn Park Historic District.

What were the issues? City Manager Tony Delgado told the committee at the start of the meeting that their charge was to determine whether removing the monument would damage the integrity of the Munn Park Historic District.

Those who want the monument to stay in place had a different take. St. Petersburg lawyer Andy Strickland told committee members that the City Charter gives them the responsibility to protect historic elements, and McAllister added that unless the city can prove the monument must move, the committee must vote to preserve it.

Was there public comment? About two dozen people spoke, about evenly divided between supporters and opponents. Those who wanted the monument moved were all Lakeland residents. Those who wanted it to stay were a mixture of residents and out-of-town visitors. The entire discussion of the monument issue took two hours and 25 minutes.

Give an example of what a supporter said: James Ring, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts who helped create the Global War on Terrorism Freedom Memorial at Veterans Park, said, “As a combat veteran I wish to ensure that the service and sacrifice of the Confederate veterans that the memorial represents is honored. However, as a minority business owner, I also see the need to ensure that we support the city’s vision that we create a cultural and inclusive world-class community. Veterans Park is a place where the memorial can be viewed reverently in the appropriate historical context. Moreover, Munn Park is the city’s bedroom and should be a place where every citizen feels welcome.”

Give an example of what an opponent said: The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ McAllister said, “In 1914, five years after the Munn Park memorial was dedicated, the UCV (United Confederate Veterans) held their annual reunion in Lakeland. It became a tourist attraction. The history of Lakeland is synonymous with the history of the Confederate veteran and his family. I’m sorry but it’s true. Detaching the statue would eliminate a significant part of the cultural history of Lakeland. Having the memorial in the central town square is the touchstone of the community to welcome veterans and citizens. It defies logic to say it’s not part of the historic nature and contributions. It is not intrusion. It is inclusion.”

What happens next? Mayor Mutz is pressing his drive to secure private donations to move the monument. City staff will solicit bids from monument movers this week, The Ledger reported.

If an appeal is filed, the first step is to appeal the decision to the full Historic Preservation Board, city senior planner Emily Foster said. The next level of appeal would be to the Circuit Court.

View previous LkldNow coverage of the monument issue.

historic preservation board
The Historic Preservation Board met in Lakeland City Commission chambers at City Hall today.