After much discussion from residents and Milton City Council members on both sides of the Confederate flag issue pertaining to whether it should be displayed on the city's seal, the council voted 5-3 to once again table the issue for a future discussion.
The issue to remove the Confederate flag came before the council in last month’s meetings when the city was given two letters from concerned residents seeking to have the flag removed from city grounds and seal. After being brought before the city’s Administration committee on August 20, committee chair Marilyn Jones moved to table the issue before the council during Thursday night’s executive committee meeting.
“The committee recommended the removal of the Confederate flag on the seal and replacing it with the National flag of the Confederacy,” Jones said. “However, I feel that at this time it needs further consideration and looking into, the history of the seal itself and I would move to table that.”
Although she received a second from fellow council member Mary Ellen Johnson, Jones motion to further table the discussion did not set well with fellow Councilman Alan Lowery.
“The committee recommended that it be changed,” Lowery said. “Why can’t we vote tonight?”
Mayor Wesley Meiss, who said he was also attended the August 20 committee meeting, sided with Lowery’s position.
Several members from the audience also wanted the Confederate flag issue to be dealt with once and for all at the meeting.
“My question is how long are we going to drag this out?” said Frederick Smith. “We need to make a decision so this won’t drag on and keep this city divided.”
While many of the speakers urged the council to take a vote on the Confederate flag, they also presented their stance on the controversial topic.
Speaking as a concerned citizen, John Reble said city staff estimated it would cost more than $10,000 to eradicate the seal everywhere in the City of Milton and replace it with another successor seal.
“You are right now in the middle of the budget process in which you will be adopting the first reading tonight,” Reble said. “I am certain that you do not have $10,000 or more to throw at a gesture that would have no material benefit to anyone in the City of Milton. You have many far more pressing issues that demand your attention.”
Milton resident Al Brewton took issue with the Confederacy representation itself, Brewton read an excerpt from an 1861 speech, known as the Cornerstone Address, delivered by Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States during the Civil War. In the address Stephens stated the new confederacy was founded on the idea that black people were inferior to white people.
“I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be anywhere associated in any government installation, period.” Brewton said.
The council had to take a brief recess in order to allow the council to approve the first public hearing of adopting a 3.23 mileage rate and tentative city budget for the 2016 fiscal year. The hearings were approved unanimously by council. The reconvened council meeting for the 2016 budget is scheduled for Thursday, September 17 at 5:01 p.m.
After hearing from attendees who wanted to express their thoughts on the matter, the council was able to share their opinion on the recently much discussed topic.
Mary Ellen Johnson was passionate and highly vocal while sharing her thoughts on the matter.
“We should not be divided because of the symbol of the flag, rather we should all be able to see it and remind us that we’ve moved a mighty long way,” she said.
Johnson also urged the citizens and the council to find unity and love for one another. She also stated the issue began when the local media approached the mayor about the controversial topic.
“We have to be careful with what we do,” she said.
While sharing his thoughts on the matter, Meiss also promised what action he would take should the council be split on the vote
“Whatever the council does that is fine, but I will tell you this council, it only takes four votes and I will be the tiebreaker and we will get that flag off that seal,” Meiss said.
Council member Jimmy Messick said the flag itself is not to blame for the tragedy which took place in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, which triggered the debate over the Confederate flag.
“The hate in individual’s hearts is what causes all of this hatred that goes on that is what causes these killings, that is what causes the discrimination.” Messick said. “It’s not that flag.”
Messick also stated his previous stance on the issue.
“We are going to have division one way or the other,” he said. “So my suggestion was to leave it alone.”
Johnson also agreed stating the flag is also a representation of history.
“If we remove that Confederate flag from the seal, we are also impacting on the removal of African American history,” she said.
With three nay votes from council members Johnson, Lowery, and R.L. Lewis, the vote was passed with favoring votes for tabling the issue Ashley Lay, Patsy Lunsford, Marilyn Jones, Jimmy Messick and Lloyd Hinote.
In between the initial motion and the lengthy conversation on the topic, Council member Johnson said she was initially confused when the vote was brought forth. However, after reflecting upon Thursday night’s lengthy and, at times, heated discussion Johnson said she stands by her nay vote.
“We need to find some common sense and some common ground, because it is causing division,” she said in a follow up interview. “We do need to make a decision.”