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Carlton: A moment of sanity when citizens finally said no

If you were looking for some small sign of sanity in the world, here's one courtesy of the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

This week, citizens stepped up in ways large and small — with a few bucks, with some seriously big money — to say that continuing to honor a monument to the Civil War at a public courthouse is not okay.

Move it, please, like you said you would.

Four members of the Hillsborough County Commission seemed to be doing their best to resist the board's previous vote to remove a Confederate soldiers statue from outside the old county courthouse downtown. (A public building that's supposed to be about justice for all, by the way.)

The plan was to put the divisive monument — a testament to a time of slavery dedicated more than a century ago with a racism-laced speech — in a more appropriate location: at a private family cemetery.

This week Commissioners Victor Crist, Stacy White, Ken "Silent Ken" Hagan and Sandy Murman tacked on what seemed like an insurmountable caveat: The statue can go, but only if you can privately raise half the cost of moving it — about $140,000 more — in 30 days. Or it stays. Tick tock.

With all up for election and facing vocal protesters against the move, the foursome did this amid earnest assertions about their responsibility to taxpayers. They voted this in even as the memorial service was going on for Heather Heyer, killed in the wake of a white nationalist rally to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va. Later that day commissioners put a well-known activist for Confederate causes on a county diversity panel. It was like there was a theme or something.

But within 24 hours, the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County got it done. Ex-Bucs coach and local hero Tony Dungy and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn jumped in. Former Tampa Bay Storm owner Bob Gries came through big time. So did the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and its members with a fat $70,000 that included contributions from the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. Money came from politicians and regular folk in amounts large and small, spilling over the goal with a resounding we-do-not-want-this-here.

Can you blame the organizer of the fundraising effort, Tampa lawyer Tom Scarritt, for getting a little choked up?

And yes, it's great when the private sector rallies for a cause. But there is disingenuousness in this.

Previously, some commissioners were willing to spend even more than the $140,000 — and it's your money — to pay for a pandering mural (theme: we are SO not racist here) and a racism-is-bad education campaign if the statue could stay put. Where's the fiscal conservatism in that?

By the way, we taxpayers fund plenty of things we don't personally want or benefit from. I could live without my money going to pay for amenities for far-flung suburbs that sprawl across the county, for instance. But it's part of being a citizen, part of the greater good and part of trusting public officials to look past their next election and do the right thing.

So the statue goes to its new home, though the battles are far from over. And do not be surprised to see another push for a voter referendum on whether to move it or some other creative caveat. Some commissioners don't seem to mind putting themselves on the wrong side of history.

Anyway, there's this: This week, the people stepped up. Turns out, it's who we are.

Contact Sue Carlton at carlton@tampabay.com.

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