AT LAST WEEK’S City Council meeting, Mayor Eddie DeLoach made a statement — which he said had full support of the rest of Council — addressing the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and the ensuing controversy about Confederate monuments.
“We must all denounce these forms of domestic terrorism... we must not just be on the right side of history, we must write the right version of history,” Mayor DeLoach said.
City Council tasked City Manager Rob Hernandez with an effort to “expand the story” surrounding the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park, to make the monument more inclusive in nature. It is currently dedicated to Confederate war dead.
DeLoach said the goal is to “expand the story this monument tells to be inclusive of all Savannahians, regardless of race, creed, or color, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.”
City Attorney Brooks Stillwell reminded Council that a state law passed in 2016 prohibits cities from removing any monument to military service in any war the U.S. has fought.
“State government has preempted the City’s authority” just as they preempt cities in Georgia “from banning assault rifles,” Stillwell said.
However, state law does allow for reinterpretation of monuments, as well as moving them to another visible location.
Echoing a resolution from previous years, City Council will vote on a resolution to Governor Nathan Deal requesting that the Eugene Talmadge Bridge, currently named for a segregationist governor, be renamed.
To applause, Alderman John Hall said “The name Eugene Talmadge is not what this city represents.”
City Attorney Stillwell said the state has final say on the name of the bridge, and that “the City has no say.”
Alderman Van Johnson said, “If the City had the power to change the name we would have done it years ago.”
The last effort to rename the bridge – this is the second bridge over the Savannah River bearing the governor’s name – ended when Talmadge’s descendants were consulted and disapproved of the name change.
Alderman Julian Miller urged that a vote on both issues not be taken at that meeting, but that “The public has a right to be heard on these issues before we go forward with it...we are constantly being asked to change the names of things.”
A decision was made to hold a public forum in September, to be held outside of the regular Council meeting, to discuss the monument issue and the bridge renaming resolution and allow full public input.
The forum will be held after the previously scheduled “Span The Gap” meeting on Sept. 5, which is to be moderated by former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson.
Alderman Tony Thomas suggested using the Civic Center to guarantee that everyone who wanted to participate could get in, with adequate parking.
Mayor DeLoach was adamant that City Council will not let the issues go without some kind of action.
“I already know how I feel” and how City Council feels about the issues, DeLoach said.
The mayor stated that “who shows up the most isn’t going to determine” what Council thinks and decides on the monument and bridge issue.