Options for Forrest Monument unveiled to council

Published 4:33 pm Saturday, April 13, 2013

Selma City Council President Corey Bowie handed a letter to all council members Tuesday evening that spelled out four options he said would help avoid litigation between the city and KTK Mining of Virginia — the construction company contracted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Friends of Forrest to move and expand a monument to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and make handicap accessible modifications to an existing Confederate Monument in Old Live Oak Cemetery.

The company filed suit after the Selma City Council by majority vote shut down construction work, citing a dispute over whether or not the property where the monument work was being done is owned by the city or owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

A federal court in Mobile is scheduled to hear the case in September.

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“Bottom line is whenever a city is sued, it has an adverse effect, not only financially, but also with its image, and that is something we are trying to avert,” Bowie said Tuesday, explaining his main reason for giving the council members the four options was to avoid litigation in September. “It may not materialize, but we have to at least offer the olive branch and at least reach across the lines to see what we can come up with.”

The first option listed in Bowie’s proposal gives KTK Mining of Virginia the right to continue with all planned construction, and place plaques around the site that portray accurate historical accounts approved by a third-party historian. It also stipulates all lawsuits against the city and city personnel be dropped.

The second option allows for KTK Mining of Virginia to complete all construction and enhancement plans on the monuments, but then — if requested — the city would allow anyone else the same right and opportunity to erect monuments or statues in equal size next to the Forrest monument. This option also stipulates all lawsuits against the city and city personnel be dropped.

The third option — in addition to ending all lawsuits — calls for the Forrest monument to be relocated to Riverside Park, where the Battle of Selma is held annually. KTK Mining of Virginia would also be allowed to make the Confederate monument handicap accessible at its current location in Old Live Oak Cemetery.

The last and final option would be for the city to take no action and let the lawsuit be heard in federal court.

Selma attorney Wes Kelly said he, along with three other attorneys, is representing KTK Mining of Virginia in the suit. Kelly forwarded Bowie’s letter to his client but as of Friday, had not heard any response from his clients.

“I think any attempt at settlement, it shows there is some flexibility and spirit of compromise, and so basically we want to take that spirit of compromise and try and do what we can with it,” Kelly said. “I have suggested in our letter to Mr. Bowie is that we try to get together in a sit down so we can discuss the options in a frank manner and move forward with the options and get this resolved.”

Kelly said he does not have a specific option he would recommend at this point, but did say his client may consider the third option, locating the Forrest monument to Riverside Park.

“I don’t think they would have that level of security at the battlefield and there have been some problems with theft in the past,” Kelly said, referring to the theft of the Forrest bust from the monument in April 2012.

Kelly, however, said he would not close the door on this option because council members might find a resolution to those concerns of safety and security at the battlefield.

“The council should obey the law and lift the suspension that illegally passed and let the work continue,” said Cecil Williamson, city council representative for Ward 1 and a supporter of KTK Mining of Virginia’s project in the cemetery. Williamson has previously voted to reverse the council’s decision to shut down the construction project.

Bowie said he does not know when the options will be voted on, but because of concerns about historical tourism he would like the matter resolved prior to the Battle of Selma, which is scheduled to begin April 25.