A lawsuit is slowing, but not halting, preparations to move Lakeland’s Confederate monument from Munn Park to Veterans Park, City Attorney Tim McCausland told city commissioners this morning.
“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.
City Manager Tony Delgado said much the same thing in an email responding to a question by LkldNow this week: “The implications of the suit have slowed the progress a bit; however, we have been working with the contractor and in-house staff to prepare for facilitating the move, prepping Veterans Park to accept the monument and evaluating what is required to refurbish Munn Park following the relocation.”
The day after the final city vote, a group called Save Southern Heritage filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the city from moving the monument. The group was joined by several individuals and other Confederacy-related organizations in suing the city manager and several commissioners. (Read the lawsuit.)
The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Virginia Covington, who asked Magistrate Julie Snead to conduct a hearing to gather evidence, McCausland said. That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5.
In the meantime, the city filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs do not have the proper standing and they lack the authority to prevent a local government from carrying out its plans, McCausland said.
After first missing a deadline to respond to the city’s dismissal motion, the plaintiffs were given an extension and are expected to respond next week, McCausland said.
Once that happens, the city hopes Judge Covington will dismiss the case and planning to move the monument can proceed, McCausland said. Otherwise, the next step will be the Feb. 5 evidentiary hearing.
Recent efforts to move the 109-year-old monument started in September 2015 when a local resident told commissioners that a monument 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. At the time, commissioners said no tax funds would be used for the move, and a GoFundMe campaign was set up to collect private donations.
After that effort failed to raise the estimated $225,000 needed for the move, commissioners decided to use collections from red-light camera fines for the move. Those funds had been held in reserve until the Florida Supreme Court upheld cities’ use of the cameras.