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Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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Carlton: Don't choke future Hillsborough commissioners on a bone thrown to protestors

Today the Hillsborough County Commission considers a small but symbolic action steeped in commission tradition. And not in such a good way.

As a national firestorm rages on the state of race and hate in America, commissioners take up the idea of a ban on moving any more war memorials in the county. Such memorials honor battles and troops from the Spanish-American War to Afghanistan in cemeteries, parks and public spaces across the county.

Maybe you're thinking: Sounds reasonable. But there's a bit of a backstory here.

Commissioners recently voted to move a Confederate monument many see as an offensive reminder of a time of slavery from outside a county courthouse to a private family cemetery. This, after first refusing to move it but offering to paint a nice mural nearby.

This happens at a particularly notable time given the stunning white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned violent this past weekend — a protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The tragedy was a reminder to anyone under the impression that this kind of hate exists only in the darkest corners and such battles by now have been fought and won.

The ordinance, to be set for public hearing Sept. 7, proposes that no war memorial — statue, plaque, flag display, mural, road, bridge or park named to honor a military event or person — can be "relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed." Commissioners could vote to waive it, but otherwise it would be a crime punishable by a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

More backstory: The memorial of two Confederate soldiers was dedicated more than 100 years ago by an official who set a clear tone when he referred to black people as an "inferior race." The ordinance wouldn't apply to that statue, but would protect a Civil War memorial planned for Veterans Memorial Park.

Would this ordinance be a bone thrown to vocal protesters who insisted it was about history, not slavery? Do some up-for-re-election board members hope to placate that faction with the vow that no other memorial could be similarly sullied?

And some history: Years ago, Commissioner Ronda Storms so disliked the idea of county government participating in any gay pride event that she got the board to ban it — and then to decree future commissions could only loosen the ban if at least five of seven of them agreed instead of just a majority. It took the commission years to undo that handiwork.

What right does a current commission elected by current voters have to tell future commissioners elected by future voters what to do? Sounds pretty un-American to me.

Contact Sue Carlton at carlton@tampabay.com.

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