Manatee County removed the Confederate war veteran memorial from the Manatee County Courthouse grounds at 3:30 a.m. Thursday — “when no one’s around,” said County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.
And when commissioners discussed the removal at their meeting Thursday, it was revealed that the monument had been broken in the process. The top portion of the monument wasn’t attached to its base — on which the names Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are engraved — and it toppled over during removal, breaking in half.
“The shaft’s easy separation from the base was a sign that the monument was a potential hazard before the move began and could have toppled in a strong storm or if it had been pushed or pulled at the right point,” stated a Manatee County press release.
“But it’s a clean crack, so it should be fairly easy to repair,” Hunzeker said, adding that no one was hurt in the process.
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Woodruff & Sons, the local contractor hired to remove the statue, “has extensive experience in moving heavy objects,” according to the county’s press release.
It cost the county $12,700 to remove the statue.
According to Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara, the property management budget had enough funds to cover the removal costs. As of Thursday morning, only the slab remained. Officials declined to identify where the monument pieces had been taken, saying only that they were “laying on the ground.”
The county is recommending that the monument not be repaired until it finds a new home. It would be repaired during installation at a new location.
Woodruff & Sons referred all questions about the 93-year-old monument falling during removal to the county.
Black Lives Matter had threatened one protest a week for six weeks if the county did not take action. Protest organizer Ruth Beltran said the county’s vote to remove the monument would eliminate the need for protests, but only if they kept their word. Beltran received word of the removal Thursday morning.
“We are very pleased with the quick removal of the symbol of racism, hatred, and white supremacy from the public courthouse in Manatee County,” she said. “Now that this physical symbol has been removed, we can move on to eliminate the less visible, and yet very present element of white supremacy in our different social systems today.”
America First-Team Manatee, which organized a counter-protest on Monday, suggested it may take the county to court because of its “lawless” action.
“We are extremely disappointed by the decision made by four of the county commissioners, Betsy Benac, Charles Smith, Carol Whitmore and Priscilla Whisenant Trace, who voted to remove the veterans Confederate monument, under the guise of ‘public safety’ because of the continued threats of violence from outside groups,” the group said in a news release.
The group’s members said they do not see the monument as a public safety issue and took offense to the commission’s decision to vote on the issue Tuesday when it was not on the agenda for action.
“The monument has now been removed,” the release continued. “America First-Team Manatee along with several groups and individuals are looking into any and all administrative and legal remedy available to reverse the lawless actions of these county commissioners.”
During Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners shifted some of the blame for what happened to the monument onto the Manatee County Clerk’s Office, which had previously moved the monument when the courthouse grounds were landscaped. There was some speculation that the monument may have been cracked at that time.
Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Angelina Colonneso disputed that claim, and she issued a statement that the clerk’s office hadn’t wanted the monument moved.
“The Clerk’s Office did not ‘decline’ to move the monument as stated by Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac,” Colonneso said in a prepared statement. “The Clerk’s Office had no authority to remove the monument off of county property in which previous Board of County Commissioners voted to place.”
Colonneso said her office was never notified of the county’s plans to remove the monument Thursday morning.
“Subsequent to the board’s vote to remove the monument, this Clerk did provide photos to Charlie Bishop, the director of property management, in order to show how it was placed during the landscape remodel to assist with the engineering of the removal.”
Colonneso said Bishop publicly stated that the monument was tilting and believed that’s why it cracked, but Colonneso said photos show differently. She pointed to the video released by the county showing that the monument cracked due to the placement of the straps.
“(Former clerk) R.B. “Chips” Shore valued history in this county as evident in his many contributions to historical resources in this county,” Colonneso said. “He took great care in moving the Confederate Monument as part of the landscape project.”
Bishop did not return a call for comment, but in the county’s statement he is quoted as saying: “We took every safety precaution to respectfully move this to a safe location. ... Thankfully no one was hurt when the spire came down. We’re confident that it can be fully repaired and safely placed in a permanent location once the location is determined.”
Seeking public input
Benac said it’s important to reach out to the public during the transition period of finding the monument a new home. Commissioners have suggested locations in either Bradenton or Palmetto and the Gamble Mansion.
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant and Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston indicated they would not likely take any action either way without a formal request from the county. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which manages Gamble Mansion under the Florida Parks Service, was unable to respond to the rapidly changing developments, but agreed with the two cities on Thursday.
“The Florida Park Service hasn’t been contacted by Manatee County to move any monuments to the park,” said Lauren Engle, FDEP communications director.
Apparently referring to some of the public feedback on the commission’s decision to move the monument, Benac reminded that it’s a first-degree misdemeanor to threaten the life of elected officials. In the meantime, she said, she has received “a lot of emails about the history” of the Confederate leaders on the monument, and suggested a possible exhibit be set up at the Bradenton Auditorium to teach the public about those on the monument.
“A lot of this rage comes from people who are uninformed, and we need to have them informed,” she said.
The county will plan more meetings to seek input on what the residents of Manatee County would like to see in terms of a relocation.
In a 4-3 vote on Tuesday, the commission approved a motion to remove the memorial, which had been in front of the courthouse since 1924 after it was donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and place it in temporary storage while the county sought a possible new home for the monument.
The county’s divided vote came just one day after hundreds of protestors marched on the county courthouse, with the majority of them being for the removal. Many of the protestors came from out of town for the demonstrations, which were organized by Bradenton Indivisible Pro-gressive, Manasota Black Lives Matter, Answer Suncoast and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
America First-Team Manatee along with several groups and individuals are looking into any and all administrative and legal remedy available to reverse the lawless actions of these county commissioners.
America First-Team Manatee
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office made three arrests during the mostly peaceful protest and two of the three arrested were not from Bradenton. The sheriff’s office estimated that the event cost taxpayers between $20,000 and $30,000 in overtime for the heavy law enforcement presence to keep the peace.