Last year’s removal of Manatee County’s confederate monument is still fresh on the minds of some concerned citizens. Now, they’ve discovered a document that they say is red-handed proof of county officials going back on their word.
The problem is that the document they unveiled doesn’t seem to support that claim.
The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-3 in August 2017 to remove the monument dedicated to key figures in the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. During that vote, commissioners said the statue would be relocated to an “equally prominent and respectful place” that would be decided at a later public hearing.
The newly formed Bring It Home Coalition doesn’t believe that has been done. The group made a public records request of the local government, which revealed a letter from county spokesman Nick Azzara to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in order to clear the path for moving the now-broken statue to Gamble Plantation.
“The county has concealed their actions by not asking for public comment and not putting the matter on the commission’s agenda,” said Barbara Hemingway, leader of America First-Team Manatee. “We view the county’s action as supportive of Antifa, the anti-American and anti-veteran radicals that are targeting memorials like ours around Florida and the nation.”
The letter, which Hemingway called “a smoking gun,” was sent Sept. 10, the day after the group made a public call to bring the monument back to the courthouse. She also accused Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, of being complicit in the collusion to move the statue without public comment.
However, the full package sent to FDEP notes that the request is preliminary and that the Board of County Commissioners still plans to hold a public hearing to officially decide a location. Gamble was suggested at the same meeting when the board voted to move the statue.
“It is my understanding that before Gamble Plantation may be considered as a potential site to move the Confederate Monument, an amendment to the Park Management Plan must be undertaken by the Florida Department of Environment Protection,” Azzara wrote.
According to the introduction section of the request, the Bring It Home Coalition may have jumped the gun.
“If approved, this would allow Manatee County Commissioners to consider Gamble Plantation as an optional site to which it may transfer the Manatee County Confederate Memorial after soliciting public feedback,” the document says.
But the group doesn’t want Gamble considered as a destination at all. Moving it to Gamble would only bring violence, said Gail Jesse, a representative from the Gamble Plantation Preservation Alliance.
“The Manatee Confederate Monument was threatened with destruction at the Bradenton location,” Jesse said. “Therefore, relocating it to the grounds of the historic state park will only serve to bring the same destructive action to the very steps of our historic plantation house.”
David McCallister, a representative from Save Southern Heritage, said he’s found tangible evidence of violent threats against monuments. About three weeks ago, he discovered a Twitter account called Destroy This Statue, which automatically posts pictures of confederate monuments across the globe along with directions on how to get there.
The account has been active since August 2017, the same time that the national movement to remove Confederate monuments began gaining momentum after the events of Charlottesville, Virginia. It has called for the removal of various Florida monuments in Jacksonville, Lakeland and St. Augustine.
The account has been reported to Twitter, as well as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, McCallister said. The Bring It Home Coalition also accused Galvano of colluding with Manatee County and asked that he and other Florida lawmakers elevate the monuments to cenotaphs so that they remain as permanent historical memorials.
Activists also decried Manatee’s handling of the removal that resulted in tens of thousands of dollars of damage after the 93-year-old monument was broken in two pieces. It may cost about $41,500 to repair.
While commissioners say a public hearing will still be held, it seems that Ellenton’s historic State Park is their No. 1 destination.
“County Commissioners view Gamble Plantation as a suitable relocation site due to the property’s significant connection to the Civil War ... If the state deems this an appropriate relocation site, Manatee County is committed to the following steps to ensure an open and transparent relocation process that involves both the Division of Recreation and parks and the public along the way,” the letter said.
County officials said that once the relocation spot is chosen, the monument will be “repaired and erected anew.”
It is not clear when DEP will complete its review of Manatee County’s request.