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Days after coming out in support of removing the Confederate monument at Pensacola’s Lee Square, Mayor Ashton Hayward released a statement Friday saying he won’t act unilaterally to take down the monument.

“Since my remarks Wednesday morning about the monument in Lee Square, stories have circulated that plans are being developed to remove the monument from the square,” Hayward said in the statement. “I want to reassure everyone that that is not the case. While I stated that if the decision to move the monument was up to me, I would have it moved, I also said that there is a process that has to be followed. Simply put, this is not a decision that is mine to make unilaterally, and it is not one that I would want to make unilaterally.”

Detail of Pensacola’s Confederate monument at Lee Square. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

Hayward said that while his opinion has not changed, and he believes the monument should be moved or put in its proper context, he won’t take action without the city council’s support.

“There is an existing City Council policy that addresses the preservation of historical resources and it would be wise to follow it,” said Hayward. “In that policy, the City Council declared its intent to protect the historical resources of the City to the maximum extent possible, to enable the citizens to participate, to the maximum extent possible, in any decision to move a historical resource located on city property, and to take no final action for a minimum of 30 days after an item is introduced to Council.  I see no reason to deviate from the policy and every reason to adhere to it.”

Pensacola’s Confederate monument in Lee Square overlooks downtown from North Hill. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

Hayward’s move appears to be a political calculation rather than a legal one. It’s likely that his executive power as mayor provides him the legal authority to take unilateral action if he so desired, such as when he acted unilaterally in 2015 to remove Confederate flags from the city’s “Five Flags” displays. There’s no law on the books preventing the removal of such monuments; the “council policy” Hayward referenced was adopted by resolution back in 2000, and thus isn’t codified in city law. Hayward’s administration has previously argued that the mayor is not legally bound by city council policies.

Two city council members — Council President Brian Spencer and Councilman Larry B. Johnson — have come out in support of Hayward’s plans, while one, Councilman Andy Terhaar, has said he does not support moving the monument. Councilwoman Sherri Myers was uncommitted, saying she hoped to host a “joint town hall meeting” with the Escambia-Pensacola Human Relations Commission on the issue. Other council members have not responded to requests for comment.

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