Georgia lawmaker wants to allow cities to manage Confederate monuments

Behind the former courthouse in Decatur Square sits this Confederate monument. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Behind the former courthouse in Decatur Square sits this Confederate monument. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

An Atlanta lawmaker said the fact that local governments have passed resolutions urging the state to let them decide whether to move Confederate monuments might help her gain support for a bill she plans to introduce to do just that.

State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said she will file a bill next month that would allow decisions about the monuments to be made locally.

“I think that given that it’s the people who live in these communities who see certain monuments and memorials in their public space, it really is an appropriate decision to be made at the local level,” she said.

State law prohibits Confederate monuments from being "relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion," but governments are allowed to take action to preserve or protect monuments.

Lawmakers often speechify on their desire for government to be as local as possible, but it was the General Assembly that took the right to deal with Confederate memorials away from cities and counties more than a decade ago.

When asked about the chances for Parent’s bill, state Sen. John Albers, R-Alpharetta, the chairman of the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee, said: “I have no idea. I hadn’t really thought about it. I know the issue was in the news some while back.”

Albers, who was not in the Legislature when the prohibition was approved, said he’s been focusing instead on another committee he heads that is studying tax breaks.

The city of Decatur passed a resolution last month urging Georgia lawmakers to change the law to allow it to remove a 30-foot obelisk located outside its former county courthouse. DeKalb County commissioners this week voted to authorize the county's attorneys to find a legal way to remove the monument in Decatur.

Parent represents Decatur in the state Senate.

The DeKalb resolution notes that the monument has been vandalized twice recently. It orders the county’s lawyers to find options to relocate the obelisk, which refers to Confederate soldiers as members of a ‘“covenant keeping race who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the Republic.”

Some of those who have lobbied for the monument to come down say it should be shuttled to a cemetery or a museum. There, it would remain in public view but not so prominently. Others say soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War should be honored.

Atlanta also is determining how best to handle "Confederate-themed" monuments and street names in the city, creating a panel to study the issue.

Atlanta residents petitioned the city to rename roads such as Confederate Avenue and Stonewall Street as municipalities across the country grapple with objections to memorializing the nation's Civil War past.

The Georgia Municipal Association said it backs Parent’s proposal. Spokeswoman Amy Henderson said the group believes the issue needs to be handled locally.

“The state law basically says that local government can’t do these things, and our position is that they should be allowed to,” she said. “That could mean deciding, ‘yes, we want these monuments, and here’s the reason why these are important to our community,’ or, ‘no, we don’t want these monuments and here’s why.’ ”

Parent said she has not yet courted her Republican colleagues for support, but she pointed to the traditionally more conservative city of Kennesaw, where the City Council in August asked the state to change the law.

“The local communities put them up once upon a time,” Parent said. “Why shouldn’t they be able to make the decision to take them down?”