Preaching Unity, Commission Declines to Halt Monument Relocation

City commissioners spoke about unity Tuesday as they rebuffed requests to overturn last month’s decision to relocate the Confederate monument from Munn Park. 

Nine speakers — some from Lakeland but also from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Georgia and North Carolina — appealed to the newly seated commission to reverse the 4-3 monument decision made six weeks ago by the last group of commissioners. (Four of the seven current commissioners are newly elected and were seated this month.)

The save-the-monument speakers found firm support only from new Commissioner Michael Dunn, who made several motions designed to keep the 1910 statue in place; each one failed to get a second.

In the end, the commission agreed to hold a future workshop to discuss Dunn’s motion to adopt a local law that would preserve monuments other than the one in Munn Park. No date has been set for that workshop.

Watch the discussion below. Comments from members of the public start at 2:08:30 and the commission discussion begins at 3:02:26.

City Commission Meeting | 2018.01.16 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

For several commissioners, Tuesday’s meeting was the first chance to speak at length in public about an emotional issue that has been hotly debated since last summer.  Here are some excerpts from comments by the mayor and commissioners:

MAYOR BILL MUTZ

“We really want to advocate One Lakeland and if we think about what we do in that, we have to think about consideration of all people. One of the things that is a privilege in living in our country is that we have the responsibility to be a republic. This is a republic and not a democracy as a nation and that means that many times you have to listen to voices that aren’t the majority and represent those voices — while you certainly want to preserve and respect what has been done historically through service, such as the Confederate soldiers who died to defend the state. So when we think about how we do that, we have to think about what brings the greatest respect for all people. This is a city not talking about removing that statue; it’s talking about relocating that statue. The commission made that decision to try and honor the veterans while also honoring the people who are bothered by its presence in the center and heart of downtown. So we have the opportunity not to hide it and put it somewhere else like many cities have done but rather create a better opportunity to tell the whole story. … We honor the veterans. We also honor the people who have been impacted by a slave heritage. It isn’t about whether business will be better downtown; it’s about considering matters of the heart.”

COMMISSIONER MICHAEL DUNN

“I believe the previous commission and what’s left of the previous commission on this commission probably isn’t listening to what the people in general have been saying. The majority of folks I’ve talked to expressed a very big interest in having it go before a public referendum. Normally I would say a statute isn’t worthy of a public referendum, but in this case where there have been so many people who have emotions in this respect — I’ve never seen any instance like this. … I feel like even though this process went on and on and on, it seemed like there was that last-minute push there right before the last commission left to kind of push this board to make something happen, and in the eyes of myself and in the eyes of many people in the public that they had an agenda to get something done right then and there to prevent folks coming on the commission from putting their two cents worth in.”

COMMISSIONER SCOTT FRANKLIN

“Having watched last month’s meeting and this month’s it’s disappointing to me to see how both sides castigate the other. On one side, if you are in favor of leaving that monument there, you are a bigoted, racist extremist. If you think the monument ought to move, you are everything from a communist to you name it radical extremist. And I don’t believe that’s true. I believe for the vast majority of Lakelanders there’s some strong opinions one way or the other but I don’t think they’re extremist views. … Regardless of where we come down on this issue, I think it’s a shame that there’s no monument in our Veterans Park to honor Civil War veterans on either side. … It would be very easy for us to say we’re not going to (move the monument) and I understand that we could slow roll this issue for a year and not make a decision and by default vacate that decision the previous commission made. I think that would be irresponsible. I think several of us are up here now because of the perception if not reality that too many cans have been kicked down the road … If we can find a way to not remove but move the statue to Veterans Park, that’s the only path that I would personally prefer. I think that would be a win. It’s not everybody’s perfect win but it’s a solution that both sides could and should be able to live with.”

COMMISSIONER STEPHANIE MADDEN

“I’m happy that in the spirit of unity the side that wanted to move it is talking about relocation rather than removal or destruction. If it had remained destruction or removal I don’t think my heart could be moved at all. … I like the sprit in which Mayor Mutz presented a call for unity, a call to love. When do we get our way ever if we want to maintain relationships and marriages and family and friendships? You usually have to give a little on each side and come together to do that and I have been motivated a little to move toward the relocation because of the sentiments of protecting the monument …  If we’re all giving and sharing and coming together as a community, (we’re looking for) the best thing for Lakeland, not a knee-jerk response from the national media, not a response to outside groups but because Stephanie Madden has talked with African American women who in our community who thought they would never do business south of North Street because of the monument. They have a different experience. They lived through a different time than I did and I want to respect them as my fellow citizens.”

COMMISSIONER BILL READ

“It should have gone to a ballot to make a general consensus. Then again, if it does linger we have the opportunity in December of this coming year to possibly bring it up again because it has to be one calendar year, if I understand it correctly. It’s up to the commission and the committee to make recommendations and we’ll have to decide at that time.”

COMMISSIONER JUSTIN TROLLER

“Our veterans are very important to our community, our history, and relocating it to a place that we have several events a year to honor the war dead is an appropriate place for it. I have never seen a wreath, a rose, a candle placed at that monument in the 10 years I’ve been on the commission and beforehand to honor the folks that we are talking about to day … Munn Park is no longer going to be the center of our community in five to 10 years in my opinion. Bonnet Springs Park is being built and developed. The gateway to that park will be going around Lake Beulah and is going to pass right by the RP Funding Center, which is right by Veterans Park … It will be in a focal point in the future where folks will be able to see it and recognize it as they’re going to visit Bonnet Springs Park.”

COMMISSIONER PHILLIP WALKER

“I try to really understand why both sides have gotten worked up … but we’ve got to do what’s best for Lakeland, and what’s best for our city and the people who live here. We have a melting pot like any other place in America and I think we have to say what’s best for the common good of all. … We’ve got to move forward.”


View previous LkldNow coverage of the monument issue

Ledger coverage of Tuesday’s discussion

The monument in the center of Munn Park was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1910. It is topped by a marble likeness of a soldier, one of more than 200 made by McNeil Marble Co. in Marietta, Ga.

Inscriptions at the base read “Confederate Dead” and “The heroic deeds will never fade, from memory’s brightest page, and their brave defense of country and home, is left a glorious heritage.”