Mr. Mayor and Honorable Members of City Council:
I write to express my opposition to the resolution of intent to relocate the Portsmouth Confederate Monument. Although I agree in principle with the objective, I believe that the diversity of community opinion on the matter and the intensity of feeling the discussion engenders on all sides of the issue argues for more dialogue among our citizenry as well as an advisory referendum on whether or not to relocate it.
Like a persistent forest fire, the Civil War has defied all efforts to extinguish its flames. Although the main conflagration was subdued in 1865, scattered brush fires and major flareups have reignited from the smoldering remains over the last hundred fifty-two years. The outbreaks crop up in Congress, the state legislatures, and the halls of local government as well as the streets of cities, towns, and villages across our country. The Portsmouth monument is surely fuel for one brush fire, but relocating the monument will not deprive the larger fire of all oxygen. Still, putting this one out through a community effort could better prepare us to subdue the main fire.
Within that context, I urge council to defer action on agenda item 17-449 while concurrently moving forward with the exploration of the legal, engineering, and fiscal considerations involved in a relocation. Relative to the legal component, I recommend proceeding on more than one front: seeking a declaratory judgment from the appropriate court and requesting the members of our General Assembly delegation to introduce or sign onto bills submitted by colleagues that would empower localities to decide for themselves the proper disposition of public memorials within their jurisdictions. That way, all the eggs will not be in one basket.
If we are to have any hope of bringing our community together, we must continue the respectful dialogue on this issue. Although many citizens have already expressed their opinions before city council, I have reason to believe that many more would like to do so. Ideally, we would have a forum devoted exclusively to this topic, with speaking preference given to Portsmouth residents who have not previously addressed council on this topic. If people residing elsewhere would like to submit opinions in writing, comment forms should be available to allow them that opportunity. Fundamentally, though, this is a community question for us to decide as Portsmouthians.
Finally, I believe that the Portsmouth electorate must express our will by means of a referendum. If the seven of you decide the matter yourselves, especially if you do so by a single-vote majority, you will most assuredly widen the political rifts in our city. On the other hand, affording the people the chance decide the question in a free and open election improves the prospects for acceptance of the outcome by fair-minded people, those who I think constitute the overwhelming majority of our citizenry.
I close by urging you to proceed along the course I have described “with all deliberate speed”.