PORTSMOUTH — When the U.S. House of Representatives voted with bipartisan support in July to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol, supporters said it does not have a place in the U.S. Congress. Several members of Portsmouth City Council share that view and are continuing conversations on its removal from city property.
Resuming the discussion in the City Managers session Monday evening, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon again asked City Solicitor John Haas the legality of such an action. The original measure, although not reaching the legislation stage, specified banning Confederate flags from the riverfront campgrounds but now applies to all city property.
“You can pass anything you want,” said Haas, repeating what he said in previous conversations both in-session and in a statement provided to the Portsmouth Daily Times. “I’m just advising you; I think we are going to lose if we get sued.”
Legal action could come through the Sons of Confederate Veterans, its chairman previously sending a letter to the City Clerk’s Office that was read aloud during the Dec. 14 session. Haas suggests while the member is from Ironton, he will likely encourage locals to sue the city.
If legal action would be imminent, 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne proposed an alternative that would increase the rental spots’ rate to cover legal fees and donate the remaining funds to the McKinley Pool and organizations fighting for racial equality.
“As long as there are Confederate flags and other hate symbols there, we just tax their hate,” he said. “We could get sued in court, or we could just make money off them if they’re so dedicated to it and we could keep raising it each year.”
City Manager Sam Sutherland said the individuals register for the rental spots through the Public Service Department, the department telling the Times those 62 spots go for $250 a month. That money then goes into maintenance of both the campground and to subsidize the pool.
Dunne’s idea called for a $75 monthly increase, which, when applied to each of those spots, would bring in an extra $4,650 to the city each month. With the rental period between May 15 and Nov. 15, a total of seven months, the yearly change in sum would be $32,550.
He feels the change would deter the presentation of the flag, while Mayor Kevin Johnson senses repercussions for the other renters.
“There are too many good people down there that want nothing to do with the Confederate flag and you’re going to penalize them,” he said to Dunne, arguing against the proposal. “You cannot penalize others because of something that one or two people do.”
The rate increase would not change minds or hearts, argued Haas and could actually encourage more to present the flag on the property.
“It would be nice if it were just as easy to ban racism by banning a flag,” he said. “That flag is just a symbol. If the person still has that in their heart, banning the flag won’t do anything.”
Even if it doesn’t eliminate racism, Dunne believes a benefit could still be derived from his plan.
“Their hate will fund things for kids,” he said, referring to the pool. “Right now, their hate is just making our city look bad. What we should do is use their hate to make our city look better.”
The market demand will determine the effectiveness of the increase, said City Auditor Trent Williams, where the higher cost could push some away from renting. Gordon countered by saying the lot has been filled in years past, meaning the cost “can’t be too absorbent.”
Sentiment toward the flag has been stated clearly by Council, which Gordon says runs in contrast to the city’s message of inclusiveness. The agreement with “Watch Me Grow Ohio” that waived the three-reading rule earlier on Jan.11 is more along the lines of their goal.
The ordinance permits a lease agreement where murals will be dedicated on the flood wall adjacent to the very campground where the flags have been spotted.
“We have a city that cultivates a welcome in all parts of the city to all people,” she said, the beforementioned measure passing with unanimous support. “This is just a bad place for this to be out.”
4th Ward Councilwoman Lynette Mosley, an African American woman, often fishes down near the campground. The flag’s presence is always noted by her when visible.
“If I see those flags, immediately I get this fear and I think to myself, uh. Oh, here’s trouble,” she said, nominated to the seat in November. “We go another way because to me that flag represents hate and trouble.”
The item did not move into the conference agenda and discussions for the next session Jan. 25 could include the campgrounds lease agreement that Sutherland will gather and details from Gordon regarding a conversation with a New York lawmaker, whose state recently passed a measure that banned the sale and presentation of hate symbols on state property.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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