The Dallas City Council was set to vote on a resolution to auction off one Confederate monument and demolish another. Unexpectedly, the council postponed destruction of the Confederate War Memorial and voted not to sell the Robert E. Lee statue without even addressing what will be done with it.
It appears this unexpected turn of events was a result of the lawsuit filed in Dallas just a few hours before alleging the mayor and council overstepped their authority by violating a Texas law that protects historical monuments.
The petition names Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and the 14 council members as defendants, alleging they violated the Texas Antiquities Code that “preserves and protects historic and educational sites on land in the State of Texas.”
Because the resolution was just hours away from a vote, the lawsuit asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent the “defendants from demolishing, damaging, or removing the Confederate Monument in Pioneer Cemetery, the plinth and seating area to Proctor’s Lee and Young Soldier in Lee/Oak Lawn Park, and from selling Proctor’s Lee.”
The council resolution has four sections. Section No. 3 directs City Manager T. C. Broadnax to procure a “fine auction house” to sell the bronze equestrian sculpture of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Young Soldier, which has been stored since Sept. 6 in Hensley Air Field, a city owned facility, at a storage fee of $7,000 per day, according to Councilman Kevin Felder. According to city staff, the statue created by renowned American sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor has an appraised value of $950,000.
Section No. 4 of the resolution directs Broadnax “to obtain a Certificate of Demolition from the Landmark Commission” to destroy the 122-year old Confederate War Memorial in Pioneer Park Cemetery across from City Hall. The resolution also included authorizing Broadnax to remove the plinth and seating area at the former site of the statue.
Prior to the lawsuit, the council had ignored public wishes to leave Texas history intact and even refused to hold a public referendum. Although large numbers of people testified over several months to return the Lee statute and to stop further action against Confederate monuments, the council waved the public aside. The neo-Marxist mayor called the statues “dangerous totems” and “monuments of propaganda.”
So it came as a surprise to citizens attending the meeting, who were not aware of the lawsuit, when the council quickly voted to delay action on the Confederate Memorial and not to auction off the statue.
Under the Texas Antiquities code, sites of historic interest are the sole property of the State of Texas and may not be destroyed nor removed without a permit from the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
The petition alleges the defendants violated the Texas Antiquities Code by failing to obtain approval from the THC prior to announcing publicly the plan to alter the Pioneer Cemetery. The city’s plan, if executed, will be a criminal offense because the Pioneer Cemetery is a site of historic interest that holds 10 other sites of historic interest, “creating one of the largest historically protected areas in Texas.”
Each of these monuments is recognized as a State Archaeological Landmark and is designated by Texas Historic Markers. The plaintiffs claim the “Dallas City Council cannot pretend to be unaware of these facts” as the city “designated Pioneer Cemetery as Historic Overlay District No. 14 by Ordinance 24938.”
The lawsuit alleges that Lee Park, recently renamed Oaklawn Park, is a State Archeological Landmark because it is a site of historic interest with Texas Historical Commission Marker No. 6759. Because the statue of Robert E. Lee and Young Soldier, its plinth and seating area were a prominent feature on a historic site, the defendants were required to obtain a THC permit to remove the statue.
Since the defendants did not seek or obtain consent from the TCH to remove the Lee statue, they are, per the plaintiffs, guilty of “criminal mischief.” With the value of the statue being more than $200,000, the offense is a first-degree felony.
The statutorily determined fines for removal of the statue range from $50 to $1,000 per day and/or jail. Since the Lee statue was removed on Sept. 6, 2017, 290 days have already passed. The petition notes that since the councilmen voted for an unlawful action, they are stripped of any claim to sovereign immunity, which leaves each of them, except Sandy Greyson and Rickey Callahan who did not vote for the statue’s removal, criminally liable for fines that could reach as high as $290,000 and jail time from five years to life.
The lawsuit reiterates that the Confederate Monument in Pioneer Cemetery and the Lee statue are the sole property of the State of Texas and not owned by the City of Dallas.
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit are Katherine Gann, a “collateral ancestor” of Frank Teich, the sculptor who created the Confederate War monument in Pioneer Park Cemetery and Return Lee to Lee Park, a nonprofit organization seeking to reinstate Proctor’s sculpture. They are applying for a Temporary Restraining Order to stop the demolition of the Confederate War Memorial in Pioneer Park Cemetery and removing the plinth and seating in Lee Park. Because the Lee statue was removed unlawfully, the plaintiffs want it returned to its plinth.
The petition notes further legal action may follow if the plaintiffs’ requests are not granted.
The fight is far from over. Local grass-roots organizations are uniting to stop the Dallas Council that has a well-known reputation for corruption and lawlessness. It appears the gang of 15 has awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve. This may be a very expensive lesson for those councilmen who hold themselves above the law.