FLORENCE — Lauderdale County commissioners say they will not issue a resolution allowing the city of Florence to move the Confederate monument from the front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse because that would violate state law.
Commissioners said it would require a legislative act repealing or changing the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act for them to consider such a resolution.
All six City Council members said earlier this month they support moving the monument to Soldier's Rest in Florence City Cemetery. However, they said the city cannot do that since the monument is on county property.
County Commission Chairman Danny Pettus had presented the city with a letter from Suzanna E. Rawlins, president of the Alabama Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that declares the city owns the statue.
The county also has sent a letter to Mayor Steve Holt stating commissioners are not opposed to the city moving the monument, but city officials said they want that approval in the form of a resolution, and that the resolution should free the city from liability in the event of damage to county property.
Holt said the city has a commitment from local private business owners to pay the $25,000 fine associated with the state law for moving the monument, as well as the cost of moving it and placing it at Solder's Rest.
Pettus said he has since consulted with the Association of County Commissions of Alabama and that's when he found out moving the monument could not legally be done.
Pettus said state officials told him the fact that Florence owns the monument does not make a difference in this matter.
"It's been on our public place so long we would be held accountable for breaking the law if we allowed it," he said.
Pettus said his position is it would require a change in the law to consider any such action.
"Right now, it's a done deal," he said of the issue.
Commissioner Brad Holmes proposed during a June 8 meeting adding an agenda item calling for the commission to vote on whether to move the monument, but it failed when it did not meet unanimous consent.
Holmes said Wednesday he realizes the only way to get it down is through a change in state law.
"None of us wants to be put in the place of violating the law," he said.
Holmes said he does not believe any monument belongs in front of a building where the judicial processes are conducted.
He said the preservation law puts local governments in the position of not being able to decide on actions in their own backyards.
The law forbids altering a named structure that has been in place at least 40 years at a public location. Holmes said that can have far-reaching implications.
"If a university needed to tear down a building and rebuild it and a donor came forward and paid for it and the institution wanted to change the building's name for the donor, by virtue of the law, the university couldn't do that.
"The law prohibits our ability as a local government to govern locally," Holmes said. "With any law, and we've seen it throughout history, there are situations where it has to be modified."
Holmes said conversations on the preservation act need to be revisited in Montgomery.
"I've spoken to several members of the Legislature and asked them to reconsider the current legislation and look at ways we can govern locally," he said.
Commissioner Fay Parker said the commission cannot change a state law.
"That resolution would be breaking the law," Parker said of the city's request. "I am not going to break the state law to move this monument."
Commissioner Joe Hackworth said when the commission read the legislation, the decision was an easy one.
"Once the commission had the opportunity to review the legislation regarding preservation of monuments, for me as an elected official, I cannot knowingly go against state law," Hackworth said. "With the current legislation, the only option for the monument is to remain where it is currently located."