Putnam Board of County Commissioners workshops don’t usually have a line out the door. But on Tuesday afternoon, roughly 100 members of the public showed up for the last item on the agenda: a veteran’s memorial protection ordinance.
The ordinance would prohibit the relocation, removal, renaming, or any other disturbance to memorials of U.S. veterans and presidents.
The crowd waited nearly three hours before the commissioners brought the ordinance up for discussion, prompting accusations of “stalling!” from the crowd, a dozen of whom began to stand with their signs in protest as the commissioners discussed other agenda items.
When talk finally turned to the ordinance, discussion was brief.
Commissioner Jeff Rawls, who proposed the ordinance, began by referencing the Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn, which the commission had voted 4-1 to relocate the year prior. The commission subsequently placed conditions on its relocation that activists said were in bad faith and opted not to meet, and the monument was not moved.
“I was opposed to the decision that the board made,” Rawls said about the vote to move the monument. “I thought that the citizens should have the opportunity to vote on it collectively. But as a veteran of this county, I think that we owe it to the veterans of Putnam County to be able to put into effect this ordinance.”
Commissioners Paul Adamczyk and Larry Harvey noted the ordinance language wasn’t as broadly inclusive of all types of historical markers as the commission had previously discussed, and said they’d like it to be expanded, before opening the matter for public comment.
Supporters of the ordinance said they were glad to see moves being made to preserve history.
But opponents said the ordinance wasn’t about history broadly, but a way for the commission to walk back their previous vote to move the statue.
“To see the vote that happened a little under a year ago was very hopeful,” Rev. Tommy Rogers of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Palatka said. “It’s hard to know exactly what happened from that point to where we’re at now, where a bill is being forwarded that is speaking to issues side-handedly, where the primary issue is the statue.”
Adamczyk insisted it was not about the Confederate monument but a protection of all things considered commemorative.
Tevel Adams, cofounder of the Putnam Alliance for Equity and Justice, said those on both sides of the debate over the monument share something in common — their desire for the commission to make a clear decision.
“It is contradictory to vote on moving the statue but yet pass an ordinance to leave it untouched,” Adams told the commission. “We have been at a standstill since 1924. And we are ready for a long and overdue change.”
Adams noted more Black community members in attendance than at prior workshops related to the monument, including two pastors of local Black churches.
The commission decided to redraft the ordinance to be more inclusive of other types of historical markers before they put it to a vote.
Click here to read the story of the yearlong battle over the Confederate monument on the Putnam County courthouse lawn.