Photo by FREDDIE HERPIN, Photographer
Despite a St. Landry Parish Council resolution overwhelming passed Wednesday night, just how long a 102-year-old Confederate monument remains on St. Landry Parish Courthouse property is still undetermined.
The 9-3 Council vote in favor of removal does not contain a financial package to pay for removal costs or indicate where the monument will eventually be relocated.
There is also a question says one Opelousas attorney about whether parish government has sufficient legal authority to either sell or perhaps donate the monument.
Parish president Jessie Bellard told the Council and the large crowed attending the meeting that he knows of no one at this point of anyone that has expressed interest in obtaining the 25,000 pound structure.
“No one has given us a price yet (for removing the monument). The Council says we own it. I’m not in favor of selling it. We are donating it. If we do remove it, then we (parish government) are going to have to spend the money. I want to (remove it) do that only once,” Bellard told the Council prior to the vote.
Bellard said he has attempted to acquire bid cost submissions for removing the monument, but persons that he has spoken with about the issue have not been clear on a price.
Council member Timothy LeJeune suggested during the meeting of perhaps donating the monument of the Sons of the Confederacy, whose representatives at a March meeting spoke in favor of letting the monument remain where it is.
On Wednesday night the Council entertained opinions from several persons who spoke about alternative plans for the monument.
Lincoln Savoie, a Korean and Vietnam veteran and former Louisiana state commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the Council he would like for the monument to remain at its present location with a rededication message.
Savoie said he would like to remove the current inscription on the front of the monument panel and replace it with a message that honors the help that all U.S. military veterans have received from civilians during “times of unrest.”
Charise Guidry proposed postponing the removal resolution and waiting until November when parish voters would decide in a referendum whether they wanted the monument to remain or be placed elsewhere.
Guidry’s suggestion drew support from council members Wayne Ardoin, Alvin Stelly and Coby Clavier.
Robert Voitier, who was eventually escorted from the speakers’ podium by a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s deputy, said he plans to file a lawsuit to determine whether parish government has ownership of the monument.
Also Voitier said he will file an injunction that requests to leave the monument where it is now and a temporary restraining order preventing the monument from being removed.
Voitier also said it was obvious to him that council members had determined before the start of the meeting how they were going to vote.
Opelousas attorney Tommy DeJean questioned the Council’s decision to consider a resolution as the instrument to remove the monument.
DeJean said the Council should frame their action as an ordinance since it requires the sale or donation of what the Council considers public property.
“I’m not sure that (parish government) owns the monument. I’m also not sure that you can remove it by resolution. Your own parish charter requires an ordinance to do this. To me a resolution is just an opinion or recommendation,” DeJean added.
Council Attorney Garrett Duplechain said that if needed, the Council could draft an ordinance calling for monument removal.
Former District Attorney Charles Cravins, who brought the monument issue before the Council on March 3 during a Finance Committee meeting, said on Wednesday night that he was told before the meeting by council members that he did not name, that a resolution to remove the monument would be done by unanimous vote.
Cravins added that he did not condemn anyone at the meeting for erecting the monument which was donated to the parish by the Louisiana Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
During his March 3 committee presentation Cravins requested that no money should be spent by the parish to remove the monument. On Wednesday night Cravins said he had changed his mind.
“I want to take that back. If it costs $15,000, that’s 50 cents for every African American in this parish. I think their pride and dignity is worth more than 50 cents per person,” Cravins noted.
George Gremilion, who represented the Sons of the Confederacy, said the monument was created and donated by the UDC as a way of remembering those who died in the Civil War.
Gremilion pointed out that some families in St. Landry and the South never saw their loved ones again and the monument is like a memorial to them and the dead who fought in what he called the War Between the States.
Opelousas Downtown Development chairperson Lena Charles told the Council it was time to do something about removal.
“This is the third month that this item has been on the agenda. We don’t want to go back. We need to go forward. You (the Council) have that power. You are in the position to do something now,” Charles said.
HOW THEY VOTED
Voting in favor of the monument removal resolution were Dexter Brown, Wayne Ardoin, Timothy LeJeune, Jimmie Edwards, Jerry Red, Jr., Nancy Carriere, Easton Shelvin, Mildred Thierry and Harold Taylor.
Voting against the resolution were Alvin Stelly, Gil Savoy and Coby Clavier.