By Dan Hayes, News Editor
The Task Force charged with recommending changes to Savannah’s Civil War Memorial’s presented their finding to the Savannah City Council on Thursday.
Mayor Eddie Deloach created the task force in October of 2017. The Mayor asked for the Task Force after violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va following an “alternative-right” rally. The Task Force was charged with making simple and sensible recommendations that would address ways to make the Confederate Memorial more representative of Savannah’s community while also preserving Savannah’s unique history, according to the report.
Eight recommendations were brought before the council. The recommendations were aimed at creating contemporary context for the memorials. This recommendation would preserve the chance for future generations to add to the monuments, and restore the memorial to its original intentions.
If the city implements the changes, a plaque will be added to the monument in the middle of Forsyth Park that reads “This memorial was originally erected in 1875 to the confederate dead, redesigned in 1879 and re-dedicated in 2018 to all the dead of the American Civil War.” The plaque would be placed in the north-facing open panel of the memorial. The south-facing open panel would be left blank to give future generations a chance to add to the memorial.
Removal of the McLaws and Bartow monuments was included in the recommendations. The two bronze busts were placed in the memorial 35 years after the erection of the original memorial and “are distractions from the original memorial,” according to the Task Force. Under the recommendations, the busts would be moved to Laurel Grove Cemetery where the two soldiers who are buried.
The Council also seems poised to pass Alderman Van Johnson’s proposal to lessen the penalty for the simple possession of marijuana within Savannah city limits. The proposal would eliminate jail time and reduce the penalty from $1,000 to $150 for individuals caught with less than one ounce of marijuana within city limits.
During the first reading at last Thursday’s City Council meeting, Johnson thanked the Council and the Mayor for the opportunity to bring his proposal before them. Johnson wanted to highlight [that] “this is not only an opportunity for criminal justice, but also an opportunity for social justice,” he explained. Johnson also mentioned the Mayor and other council members, including Aldermen Thomas and Durrence and Alderwoman Shabazz who supported moving the proposal to the first reading.
Alderman John Hall added that he wanted to “thank Alderman Johnson’s progressive thinking and hard work in introducing this piece of legislation.”
The proposal has previously received support from both interim SCMPD Chief Revenew and retiring Chief Lumpkin. However, Sheriff John Wilcher does not share the enthusiasm.
In a previous council workshop, Sheriff Wilcher reiterated that “the law says possession of marijuana is illegal, it’s illegal,” Wilcher also added [that] “If y’all pass an ordinance in this city, I am still going to cite people for possession of Marijuana…it says they must be taken to jail, they must be fingerprinted, and they must receive a mugshot,” he concluded.
The proposal will come up for a second reading on March 1.
The council also adopted a motion to approve a resolution designating the city of Savannah as an information technology corridor. Keith Fletcher, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Speeros, a technology firm, testified before the council highlighting the benefits of Savannah becoming an IT corridor. According to Fletcher, “an IT corridor here in the Savannah area will bring high-end technology jobs to Savannah.” The council unanimously approved the motion.
Near the end of the meeting, Alderman Thomas floated the idea of Savannah joining a host of other cities in the fight against pharmaceutical companies in regards to the opioid crisis. Thomas asked City Attorney, Brooks Stillwell, how Savannah could aid in the crisis. Stillwell told Council that he would look into it and have something for them at the next Council meeting.