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Jacksonville Council withdraws plan to remove Confederate monument in Springfield Park

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Raymon Troncoso
/
WJCT News
The Women of the Confederacy monument, covered in a tarp as of this week, will stay in Springfield Park for the foreseeable future.

Jacksonville City Council voted 12-to-6 Tuesday night to withdraw the bill to allocate $1.3 million toward removing a monument dedicated to white, Confederate women in Springfield Park, leaving the door open for a similar plan in the near future.

The proposal was unlikely to pass, after 10 council members voted against it in committee last week. Councilman Reggie Gaffney asked the council to withdraw the bill and go back to the drawing board to avoid failure. If the bill had gone to a vote and failed, no one could re-submit a similar proposal for another year.

“What this does is give us a chance tomorrow to regroup, that’s all I’m trying to do,” Gaffney said. “What would’ve happened if one somehow one side would’ve won and the other side wouldn’t? You still would’ve had a statue covered for the rest of its life.”

Gaffney said he changed his strategy after council members Matt Carlucci and Brenda Priestly Jackson unsuccessfully attempted to push the vote to next spring, a move with backing from business leaders with Jacksonville Civic Council and community organizers with the Northside Coalition, who called for deferring the vote earlier this week.

Mayor Lenny Curry, who sent the $1.3 million removal proposal to Council, said, “Council disappointingly denied a step toward real progress,” in a tweet following the withdrawal.

 Supporters of keeping the Confederate monument in the publicly-funded Springfield Park wore red at Tuesday's council meeting.
Claire Heddles
Members of the public attend the City Council meeting Tuesday

Council’s decision came toward the end of a spirited meeting, with about 75 people giving public comments on the monument before everyone was kicked out of the council chambers. Council President Sam Newby called security guards to clear the public out of the room after a few yelled during the monument discussion. After a five-minute break, Newby only allowed members of the news media to return for the rest of the meeting.

Of the crowd of speakers, about 50 people — almost entirely white — asked the Council to keep the monument in place. Some spoke of familial ties to Confederate soldiers, and many gave false information about the monument’s origins, in their defense for keeping it at a public park.

The bronze statue in Springfield Park was erected 50 years after the Civil War ended, amidst white backlash against the rights granted to Black Americans during the Reconstruction Era. It was funded by Confederate veterans and the Florida state Legislature. The city of Jacksonville now pays for maintenance and insurance for the monument.

A few dozen ralliers calling for the monument to be removed gathered in front of City Hall Tuesday evening calling for its removal, as they have for the past several days.

Not everyone agreed with Gaffney’s change of strategy during Tuesday’s meeting. Councilman Garrett Dennis, who unsuccessfully tried to amend the proposal to cut down the cost of removal through a competitive bidding process, called his colleagues cowards for voting to withdraw the plan.

“If you think, if we’re voting to withdraw this that we’re not going to face accountability from the voters, you’re wrong,” Dennis said. “We are running and ducking our tails as cowards tonight and that is unfortunate.”

Four Republican council members who opposed removing the monument during committee meetings also voted against withdrawing the bill in hopes of forcing a Council vote.

Council members Danny Becton, Matt Carlucci, Garrett Dennis, Rory Diamond, Al Ferraro and Kevin Carrico voted against withdrawing the proposal.

Council members Aaron Bowman, Michael Boylan, LaAnna Cumber, Randy DeFoor, Terrance Freeman, Reggie Gaffney, Joyce Morgan, Ju-Coby Pittman, Brenda Priestly Jackson, Ron Salem and Randy White voted to withdraw the bill from council consideration.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry's chief administrative officer, Brian Hughes.
Claire Heddles
Brian Hughes says the mayor's office will have to try again in City Council to get the monument removed.

Mayor Curry's Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes told reporters after the vote that the Mayor’s office will have to go through council again if it wants to remove the monument because it costs so much.

“Anything above $100,000 of costs requires the City Council to weigh in,” Hughes said. “If private parties come forward, if interested parties come forward and want to talk about purchasing things, we’re obviously open to that.”

But he said even if a private party offered to pay for the removal, the council would still have to approve it. Because the bill was withdrawn instead of voted down, any council member could reintroduce a similar proposal to remove the monument.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council voted to withdraw two bills by Councilman Dennis to reform criminal justice and policing in Jacksonville. Both bills were forced onto the agenda for lack of action in committees for more than a year. One proposal would have created a citizen review board to oversee the Sheriff's Office's internal investigations, and the other would have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.