Jacksonville councilman proposes outside help to steer monument talks

Councilman Bowman to brief council on plan to work with University of Virginia ‘facilitators’

The future of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments was again a topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The future of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments was again a topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

Councilman Aaron Bowman updated the council on a plan to work with a team from the University of Virginia’s Institute for Engagement and Negotiation.

“My recommendation tonight is we establish a committee of local people that will be in charge of having these conversations in the community,” Bowman said.

The goal is to make sure everyone gets their voices heard so that the city can move forward with as much unity as possible.

“The Institute for Engagement & Negotiation is a change-agent with the skills, experience and vision for transforming chaos into order, for helping people navigate daunting challenges toward collaborative solutions,” the University’s website said. “We work as facilitators and mediators to help communities, agencies, nonprofits and businesses make sustainable decisions through collaborative approaches, in order to sustain communities ecologically, socially and economically.”

After nationwide outrage over the death of George Floyd in 2020, many U.S. cities, including Jacksonville, took steps to scrub Confederate symbols from public places including removing a confederate soldier statue downtown, renaming 6 confederate-named schools, and renaming “Confederate Park” to “Springfield Park.”

Still, the Women of the Confederacy monument remains and councilman Aaron Bowman said he wants to make sure any decision the city makes involves as many voices as possible.

“I think the risk of not having the opportunity to be heard and not understanding why someone feels that way is that’s going to be an open wound that never heals if we just make an arbitrary decision either to do something or not to do something,” Bowman said.

Bowman said he doesn’t have a position on whether the monument should stay or go but said, whichever happens, the city has to be decisive.

“I can appreciate both sides of the argument, but I also understand how important it is to some people,” Bowman said. “That’s why it’s important to me that, I think doing nothing and putting our heads in the sand is wrong.”

Bowman said the Jesse Ball duPont Fund offered to fund the researchers from the University of Virginia.

Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, said he’s discussed the idea with Bowman.

“My taxes shouldn’t go toward maintenance of that monument on public property,” Frazier said.

Some are against the proposal, including Seber Newsome, who supports keeping the monuments in place.

“I think it’s hogwash,” he said.

“We know what their plan is,” he added. “They want to come down here to recommend they take down the statues.”

Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman said she thinks the monuments should be taken down, but she doesn’t agree with an external group helping the community decide on that.

“I don’t need nobody to tell me what way to vote,” she said. “I’m representing the people and the voices of the people in the community.”

A proposal brought by councilman Al Ferraro is being considered that would leave the fate of historical monuments up to a city referendum, but that measure is still being considered by committees.

The future of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments will again be a topic discussed at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

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Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.