The Dallas City Council, which moved quickly to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, suddenly pushed pause on removing future Civil War monuments one week before a $1 billion municipal bond election.
On Wednesday, the appointed 20-person Mayor’s Task Force on Confederate Monuments reported on 13 recommendations they offered the city council including what to do with the now shuttered Robert E. Lee equestrian statue, an 1896 Confederate War Memorial that stands in Pioneer Park Cemetery adjacent to the Dallas Convention Center and across from City Hall, Civil War artwork at Fair Park, plus streets and parks named for Confederate figures. The task force suggested placing the Lee statue in a museum. Whittled down from an original list of nearly two dozen streets, the task force only recommended changing the names of five. None are major thoroughfares.
However, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who adamantly chided the city’s Confederate statues as “monuments of propaganda” and “dangerous totems,” abruptly called for a major slowdown on the removal of these historical artifacts, saying he directed City Manager T.C. Broadnax to study the task force’s recommendations, look into removal fees, and report back sometime next year.
Quite the far cry from August when Rawlings created the task force to advise city officials on whether or not to remove Confederate monuments in response to violence at a Charlottesville, Virginia, protest. He charged them with meeting for 90 days to find solutions and report their findings. That same week, though, Rawlings fast-tracked the process. By month’s end, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway pushed a resolution that demanded the city immediately remove, dispose, or relocate all Confederate statues and images located on Dallas public land and rename all city-owned parks and streets with any ties to the Old South.
On September 6, the city council passed that resolution, even though Councilwoman Sandy Greyson, the lone no vote, asked her peers to slow down. The resolution downgraded the task force’s role and accelerated the plan’s timeline so that city officials would meet on November 1 to hear the task force’s ideas and then vote on their recommendations one week later.
When November 1 came, Caraway instead claimed to be in no rush. “I don’t care if it is the second or third quarter,” he said in response to Councilman Scott Griggs who requested a March 2018 deadline date for Broadnax to report costs to the city council.
Previously, Caraway insisted the only way Dallas could only heal following the Charlottesville violence was by unloading its Confederate iconography. Now he said he thought “the process we’ve gone through has begun to bring this city to a better understanding.”
However, at an October 25 special meeting, Dallas city council members felt little love during two hours of public comments from constituents. The majority of the nearly 60 people who spoke voiced strong displeasure with their elected officials over the Confederate monuments matter. Among them were residents of the 142-unit Mayfair Condominiums who opposed the task force’s proposal to rename their two blocks long street, Lee Parkway. The building is located across from the former site of the Robert E. Lee statue.
Mayfair resident Dee Holley questioned the legitimacy of the city’s hand-picked “historians” making the decisions to tear down and erase all these historical markers. She called the whole process “not an emergency,” adding the task force’s decision can be “undone” and it was not the city council’s job to make changes based on their “feelings.”
One upset Dallas resident voiced sentiments expressed by others: “Your bond is going to be voted down.”
A $1 billion bond looms over Dallas in a November 7 special election. The City wants its taxpayers to approve a package full of big ticket items such as improvements to streets, libraries, public safety, cultural, and performing arts facilities. The ballot also includes propositions seeking upgrades to Fair Park, homeless housing, flood protection, and an economic development program.
On Wednesday, Councilman Adam McGough said while he understood “a lot of folks are really upset,” he added “when we talk about voting down a bond just to be heard on this monument issue, I don’t get it.”
Aside from the bond, little is known about the final price tag for the task force recommendations. The Office of Cultural Affairs estimated a cost of at least $1 million to remove the Pioneer Park Confederate War Memorial. In August, Caraway quoted $1.2 million for its removal and $600,000 to take down Lee’s statue. He also approximated $4 million as the total expense for both monuments including storage and relocation.
More than 30 Dallas taxpayers spoke during the open forum portion of Wednesday’s meeting. Another Mayfair resident, Dee Genova, told councilmembers, “If the city wants to do something significant to do that healing, we don’t think that 142 of us changing our addresses is going to accomplish that.”
One woman described the actions of the city council as “highly insulting” to the constituents and a “misdirection of our tax dollars to promote your political preference agenda.”
Rawlings acknowledged that city officials “moved fast on the Robert E. Lee statue,” asserting the city was in a “precarious situation” following Charlottesville. He maintained the Lee sculpture originally dedicated in 1936 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt became a public safety concern. “Sometimes, safety needs to be first in what we’ve done,” he stated.
“In my opinion, you have already made your decisions,” said Dallas resident Susan Fountain, who like many in attendance, felt city officials had an agenda to remove the monuments from day one. She continued, “Just like the morning of the Lee statue removal when the crane was already in place as we spoke.”
Rawlings disagreed with criticism from Dallasites who called the process a “sham.” He said, “I think the process has been complete and inclusive.”
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