By Claire Byun
After last week’s removal of the P.G.T. Beauregard monument from its pedestal in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the City Park Improvement Board is meeting soon with city officials about the space, and board members spent about 40 minutes during their regular board meeting Tuesday in a closed-door discussion of “the board’s legal position on the monument” with City Park attorneys, board chair Steve Pettus said.
“We had to bring our board up to date about what’s been going on, and we’ll have discussions with the city in the next few days before bringing it back to our board,” said Bob Becker, City Park CEO.
Louisiana law allows public boards to hold discussions in secret about current or prospective litigation, but requires those entities to provide the court, case number and parties involved in the litigation on the meeting agenda so that the public will know about it ahead of time.
“If a public body plans to discuss a matter in executive session (excluding the public) that pertains to prospective litigation, or actual pending litigation, the notice of the meeting shall so indicate,” according to the law.
The board’s agenda stated the executive session was meant to discuss strategy and negotiations with respect to issues regarding Beauregard. This is the first time the board has called an executive session in at least a year.
After conversations with the city, Pettus said the park will provide opportunities for public input on what becomes of the easement once housing the Confederate memorial, but park officials “aren’t going to rush into anything.” Though the monument’s land rights have been in question for weeks, City Park officials will take the lead deciding what will take its place.
Both Pettus and Becker said public input would be sought in some form or another, possibly through online forums or surveys.
“I think people will want to have some say, in some form, before any decision is made,” Becker said.
Five people in favor of the monument attended the public meeting Tuesday. Three spoke during the pubic comment section of the meeting, mostly expanding on previous rhetoric surrounding the monuments’ controversies.
Alan Weber, volunteer with the Monumental Task Committee, used most of his time in front of the board recounting Beauregard’s reputation as a military hero and outstanding member of the New Orleans community. Weber said the dismantling of Beauregard is based on “unfounded accusations” of the Confederate general and questioned the city’s ownership of the statue – a claim made by monument supporters for weeks.
“If the city has no rights to the statue, that the people own this statue, I’d hope you’d defend [Beauregard’s] reputation,” Weber said.
Gary Mason, vice president of the Monumental Task Committee, also spoke in front of the board but wished to know when title work on the monument was completed and if anything came from those efforts. Steve Pettus, president of the board, told Mason title work had been done but he couldn’t say anything further.
“This is unfortunately not a question-and-answer session. This is a public comment session,” Pettus said.
Now that the city has taken down Beauregard, Mason said MTC will keep with their mission of taking care of all New Orleans’ monuments. The committee is worried, however, that there won’t be any more monuments in the future to attend.
“The concern is, will the city take them all down?” Mason said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told onlookers, media and city officials after the final monument was removed that residents “elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and this is what that looks like.”
The statutes of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and the memorial to a Reconstruction-era white-supremacist uprising “purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for,” Landrieu said.
For Janell Weber, who attended City Park’s board meeting, the monument’s removal “ruined the beauty of the park.” Janell Weber argued the city refused to compromise with monument supporters, instead opting to erase a part of New Orleans’ history. Weber said plenty of people around the city had no interest in the monuments – including “many black people who weren’t bothered by them” – and the mayor’s administration should have focused on crime and public safety rather than Confederacy memorials.
Now that Beauregard has come down, Janell Weber said she doesn’t know what could replace him. She suggested sticking the bronzed statue back on the pedestal in it’s original position.
“That’s where he belongs.”
While City Park will lead the charge on the future of Beauregard’s site, Becker said he’s still focusing on the programs and projects already offered in the public space. The usual hustle and bustle of park programs consumes most of staff’s time and energy, Becker said, so the controversy surrounding Beauregard’s removal wasn’t necessarily the top priority.
“Somehow City Park was put in the middle of this thing,” Pettus said.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for June 15 at 4 p.m. in the administration building, 1 Palm Drive.