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Caddo rebel monument on the move ... maybe

Except for a Hail Mary that would shake up more than just the current dispute, it looks as if the Confederate monument by the Caddo Parish Courthouse will head to the dustbin of history.

Last week, the full Caddo Parish Commission voted to advance an ordinance to move the object. On Oct. 19 the vote on the actual measure will come, but the balloting that pushed the matter forward and on another signals high certainty that this will succeed.

During its Monday work session prior to the Thursday regular meeting, Commissioner Lyndon Johnson proposed the movement. With little debate, commissioners voted 8-4 to put the item on the future agenda, with Commissioners John Atkins, Mario Chavez, Doug Dominick, and Jim Smith opposing. This disregarded the recommendation of a task force set up by the Commission that called for adding monuments or other material to the area next to the existing object that would expand the historical overview about the object and, more generally, address race relations.

Right after that business, Dominick brought forth a proposal that he authored with Atkins, Chavez, and Commissioner Mike Middleton that would implement the citizens committee’s conclusions. The measure, which would have made the agenda of the next full commission meeting for final decision three days later, generated much more debate, but failed on 6-6 tie with the four authors plus Smith and Commissioner Jerald Bowman in favor.

Essentially, this means the Oct. 19 proposal will pass, absent some minds changing. Middleton, a Republican, and Bowman, a Democrat, by voting for both signaled they would vote for the recommendation if it came down to a choice between the two, as it would have come first, but they won’t have that option. With one other exception, all Democrats voted for the Oct. 19 measure and against the recommendation and all Republicans did vice versa; Republican Matthew Linn voted against both.

These decision patterns were a mistake. While proponents of removal tried to argue placement elsewhere would suffice, they ignored that the marker, on the National Register of Historical Places, rested right about where a number of significant historical events had occurred, such as the last meeting of state government under the Confederacy. Regardless of opinions about motives of the states in rebellion, commemoration of where that in Louisiana petered out, among other things, merits recognition. Given a chance to accept the recommendation that would prove purposeful and supportive, the Commission majority opted for an Islamic State solution that erases history some consider inconvenient and who apparently feel unable to come to terms with it.

Yet they may get bailed out. Local attorney John Settle, known for inserting himself into a number of controversies, filed suit in district court over ownership of the parcel on which rests the monument. A 2012 search for documentation legally ceding the land from the parish to the United Daughters of the Confederacy organization, who subsequently placed the object, turned up empty, leading observers to believe the parish still possessed legal title to the land. Subsequently, the parish ordered lowering the Confederate Battle Flag that had flown there.

But now new evidence has surfaced that the transfer did take place, with Police Jury minutes from 1903 indicating the transfer and a gift of $1,000 to help pay for the object’s siting. Settle’s suit petitions that the court strip claimed ownership from the parish.

To make matters more interesting, both the UDC and the parish contest Settle’s suit, arguing that he has no standing to bring it as he has no ownership interest. And even more interesting still, the judge initially assigned to the matter, Mike Pitman, recused himself from the case, citing a state judicial canon that mandates where an appearance of impartiality by a judge that he recuse himself. How Pitman might think others could view him as potentially impartial for this case he didn’t address.

If a court recognizes the UDC as owners, that would make it impossible for the parish to move the object and also clears the way for the UDC to restore the flag. The next few weeks for this issue might involve more twists and turns than experienced at Splash Kingdom.

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