BRADENTON – The Confederate memorial monument in front of the Manatee County Historic Courthouse was damaged when it was removed Thursday morning.
Before county commissioners recessed for lunch during Thursday’s budget workshop, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker provided an update.
Reading a press release, Hunzeker said, “Crews removed the Confederate monument from the Historic Courthouse grounds today, working during the early hours of the morning to avoid foot traffic at the courthouse and to prevent major traffic disruptions.”
“During last night’s relocation, crews discovered that the approximate 22-foot, 8.5-ton granite monument was an even greater public safety risk than suspected. After carefully securing the spire with lifting straps at 3:30 a.m., a crane slowly applied pressure to tighten the straps. As pressure was applied, it became evident that the spire was not completely attached to the base of the monument. The spire shifted in the straps and quickly fell to the ground and broke in two pieces.”
“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,” Hunzeker said.
“We tried to do it respectfully, but challenges existed and we weren’t aware of the problems with the movement that took place several years back,” he added.
Bishop weighs in
Property Management Director Charlie Bishop also addressed the commission.
“We took every safety precaution to respectfully move this to a safe location. Thankfully no one was hurt,” he said, noting that a local contractor experienced in moving heavy objects performed the work.
“We’re confident that it can be fully repaired and safely placed in a permanent location once the location is determined. We have pictures from 2013 that show the monument being teetered, tilted, and we feel that is where the base might have been loosened,” he said of the previous relocation that occurred when the courtyard was reconfigured.
“It’s a shame, but there’s nothing we can do except repair it,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said.
“In our estimation, it’s a clean break. It didn’t crumble, it didn’t split down the center. It was approximately four foot from the top. Our initial discussion is to wait to find its future location and repair it then. Don’t repair it now and move it again,” Bishop said.
“Thank you and your team for working so quickly on that. We just got an e-mail this morning that there’s going to be another group on Sunday protesting the monument,” Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said.
Regarding the remaining concrete pad and the anticipated protest, DiSabatino said, “It’s a thing, and they’re worshiping these things, so it could be an issue.”
Commission Chair Betsy Benac said it would be up to Clerk of the Court Angela Colonneso and her office to determine what’s done with the vacant space outside the historic courthouse that serves as her offices.
“That is a special place in Manatee County and there needs to be discussion,” Benac said.
Commissioner Charles Smith asked Benac to restate something she said earlier in the week about the e-mails commissioners were receiving.
“It is a first-degree misdemeanor to threaten to kill or harm an elected official. So, before you send out an e-mail saying you want to kill one of us, and I don’t say this jokingly, please be aware, because you will be prosecuted,” Benac said.
“Or that you’re going to burn down the courthouse,” Smith added.
Finding a new home
When discussing the monument’s relocation on Tuesday, Whitmore emphasized that it should be done for the public safety of Manatee County residents.
The Bradenton-based chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the memorial in 1924. In accordance with correspondence received from the national chapter, Benac requested Smith’s motion stipulate the monument be relocated to an equally prominent and respectful location.
Earlier, Smith held up a $500 personal check and challenged the other commissioners to join him in raising $12,000 to relocate the memorial at no expense to taxpayers.
On Thursday, Benac suggested the county partner with a local non-profit organization. For now, checks can be addressed to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners, at 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, Fla., 34205.
The monument was taken to a secure, undisclosed location in the county, according to the county.