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Monday, Sept. 25, 2017

ALL FOR NAUGHT

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Commission ignores advisory panel’s recommendation

Let me see if I have this right. The Caddo Commission appointed a Citizens Advisory Committee to make a recommendation about what to do with the Confederate Monument on the Caddo Courthouse grounds. Originally, it consisted of 10 members. They were:

Chairman R.J. Johnson, secretary of the Caddo Parish Democratic Executive Committee.

Vice Chairman Gary Joiner, a history professor and demographer.

Charles McMichael, a retired history teacher.

Jackie Nichols, president of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

John Andrew Prime, former history reporter for The Times and a member of the Sons of Union Veterans.

Pastor R. Timothy Jones. John Ratcliff, an attorney. David Norris, a minister. Joanne Sigler, a history author. Bishop L. L. Brandon, Praise Temple Cathedral.

Bishop Brandon resigned from the committee and was not replaced, leaving it with nine members. The committee set about with its work. It held several public hearings in different parts of the city to get public input. After failing on two tries to come up with a recommendation because of absent members, the committee ultimately voted 5-3, with Chairman Johnson abstaining, to allow the monument to stay in place on the grounds of the courthouse and adding a historical plaque and two monuments honoring Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement.

The recommendation was presented to the Caddo Commission and assigned to its Long Range Planning and Special Projects Committee. What did this committee do? It trashed the Advisory Committee’s recommendation on a 4-3 vote and instead recommended moving the monument. Voting “for” were Commissioners Steven Jackson, Lynn Cawthorne, Lyndon Johnson and Louis Johnson. Voting “against” were Mario Chavez, Doug Dominick and Jim Smith. The vote was along racial lines. The Long Range Planning and Special Projects Committee vote ignored months of work by the Advisory Committee, which was appointed by the Commission.

A decision could come by Oct. 5 on whether to remove the Confederate Monument from the Caddo Courthouse grounds. If so, it would be the end to a long-standing feud that has been raging for more than a year, following other similar conflicts around the country. The Commission has procrastinated enough on this issue, and it is time to render a decision one way or the other. Apparently, public comments will be allowed before the vote.

The monument was suggested by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and funded in 1903 by contributions, the UDC and the Police Jury, forerunner of the Caddo Commission. The 30-foottall, 60,000-pound granite and marble structure was dedicated in 1906. It was placed on the Federal Register of Historical Places in 2014.

Should the Commission vote to remove the monument, a fight will definitely follow. The United Daughters of the Confederacy has declared in a court filing that it owns both the monument and the ground it stands on. The declaration by UDC Chapter President Jackie Nichols in Caddo District Court came as a result of a lawsuit filed on Aug. 29 by government watcher John Settle. The lawsuit seeks a judge’s ruling about whether the parish or the UDC is legal owner of the land under the Confederate Monument. Named as defendants were the Commission and the UDC.

Nichols was a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee that made a recommendation to the Commission, which was shot down in that 4-3 vote of the Long Range Planning Committee, and a proposal to move the monument was devised instead. Nichols said that the recommendation was a fair one to add a plaque and two additional monuments to the Courthouse grounds. She noted that Advisory Committee members volunteered more than 225 man-hours over a period of more than nine months to get public input. The Commission has asked the judge to dismiss the suit because it was filed by Settle, who had no real and actual interest other than as a taxpayer.

But you can be assured that if the court dismisses the lawsuit and if the Commission votes to remove the monument, the UDC will file a lawsuit. This battle is far from over. The compromise recommendation of the Advisory Committee seems plausible to me. Moving the statue would be a monumental undertaking – no pun intended – and a costly endeavor. It would be less costly to add a plaque and two other monuments as suggested by the Citizens Advisory Committee. Why didn’t the full Commission vote on the committee’s recommendation? That seems like the proper thing to do after all the work the Citizen’s Advisory Committee did on this issue. Bottom line: It’s time to move on. Let the monument stand where it has for 111 years.

Lou Gehrig Burnett, an award-winning journalist, has been involved with politics for 44 years and was a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., for 27 years. He also served as executive assistant to former Shreveport Mayor “Bo” Williams. Burnett is the publisher of the weekly “FaxNet Update” and can be reached at 861-0552 or louburnett@comcast.net.

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