More on Memphis effort to remove Forrest statute — with Haslam’s help

The Memphis City Council, which voted in 2015 to remove a statute of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a city park but saw its effort rejected by the Tennessee Historical Commission, held a meeting Tuesday to talk over options for getting around a state law that requires commission approval. One is to sell the park to a private entity, which would not be covered by the state law; another is to cover the statute up.

Gov. Bill Haslam, who was in Memphis Tuesday and who is a member of the commission, told reporters that he’s been talking with Mayor Jim Strickland and supports the Memphis chief executive’s efforts to remove the statute.

From WMC-TV:

“(Strickland) understands it’s a process trying to do everything. He can work to speed that process along, and I think it’s the right approach,” Haslam said.Haslam serves on the Tennessee Historical Commission and said they are talking about possibly changing the process or speeding it up.

“We don’t always like the process, but I’m the governor not the king, so I don’t get to decide all that. But we would like to see it dealt with as rapidly as possible,” Haslam said.

Haslam also said the principle in this entire issue goes back to letting the local government decide these sorts of issues.

“I think the city of Memphis should get to decide what happens on its own property. I think that’s a great principle that fits in this case,” Haslam said.

He made it clear he is not for taking down the statues illegally and dealing with the repercussions later.

“We’re a state of laws, and we don’t just get to obey the ones we like, so I think it’s Important to remember that,” Haslam said.

From the Commercial Appeal:

The city is asking for a vote on the Forrest waiver at the commission’s next meeting Oct. 13… “Anything he can do that’s within his legal power to assist us in that, he’s offered us that help,” (City attorney Bruce) McMullen said of Haslam.

… City officials hope Haslam’s support could give the city the simple majority needed to secure approval from the 24-member commission, although council attorney Allan Wade said the waiver process is stacked against Memphis. After a closed-door meeting with council members about the potential legal ramifications, Wade said several of the commissioners were affiliated with the Sons of Confederate Veterans — an organization that has opposed the city’s application for a Forrest waiver — and should recuse themselves. He also said going through the process from start to finish takes more than a year.

“It’s probably easier to have someone executed by lethal injection than to get a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission,” Wade said.

Council members voted in executive committee Tuesday to authorize Wade to draft a resolution laying out the city’s options for discussion during the council’s Sept. 5 meeting, although further action could be delayed until after the October hearing. The options discussed were the immediate removal of the statues, selling them at an auction or privately, requesting a special session of the Tennessee Historical Commission to consider the city’s applications for waivers to remove the statues, and artistically boarding them up.

… If the commission doesn’t grant the city a waiver, the city could pursue a popular alternative: sell the public parks to a proxy who would then remove the statues and sell the parks back to the city. The move may skirt the law requiring a waiver to modify or move historic monuments sitting on public property.

 

In the meantime, the city could board up the statues and possibly call in local artists who could give an alternative perspective while keeping the partition from becoming an eyesore, Wade said. He said the city has spent “tens of thousands of dollars” cleaning paint and graffiti off the statues, in addition to the costs to guard them. The city could make a legal case that blocking view of the statues is in the city’s best interests.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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