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Published: Monday, August 21, 2017 @ 5:42 PM
FRANKLIN — UPDATE @ 11 P.M.: For more than an hour Monday, Franklin City Council faced more than 80 people who filled council chambers to make it clear they want a 90-year-old monument honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Dixie Highway returned to the spot from where it was moved.
They want the monument back in its place on Hamilton Middletown Road at Dixie Highway and felt the city should not have removed it in the cover of night, a move they said showed cowardice on the city’s part.
Some said city officials should have had a meeting to discuss what to do with the Franklin Twp.-owned monument once they learned it was on city right-of-way along Dixie Highway.
The size of the crowd made it necessary for a large police presence at the Franklin City Building. Those entering were made to go through a metal detector. Police also used a wand to check people for weapons and metal objects.
Mayor Denny Centers agreed “It was a bad decision to move it at night.
“There were a lot of reasons why it happened,” he said.
Centers also said the monument would not be returning to the its former site.
City Manager Sonny Lewis, who was on vacation last week, said he made the decision and instructed Acting City Manager Jonathan Westendorf to have it moved overnight Thursday. The decision, Lewis said, was part of an effort to keep citizens safe .
“ I would rather be called a coward than be standing up there two days later lighting candles for a memorial for someone who got hurt or killed up there.,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he received no threats to take down the monument.
Vice Mayor Carl Bray, however, said he did receive threats via Facebook and telephone.
“If this had [been] a Luke Kennard monument with a rock on it, I would have said we have to move it 10 feet or get it out of the right of way,” Bray said.
Corey Andon, of the Socialist Alternative group in Dayton, came into the council meeting wearing a red flag around his neck like a cape. Centers asked him to take off the flag, saying that “people will dress respectful.”
Andon said, “You people might be in Franklin, but that monument represents Ohio. That monument is a stain as a whole. That makes me feel ashamed to be here tonight …. “
His comments were drowned out by people in the audience so much so that had to be escorted from council chambers.
Another resident said he was “sick and tired of the controversy” and said media coverage only “hyped that up” and getting local people riled up because of events that happened elsewhere.
“Sorry there was no violence because you would have sold more ads,” he said.
Another resident, Billy Back, said, “We’re not racist in Franklin. Skin color doesn’t matter here.”
Two residents said they would be more than happy to have the monument moved onto their property.
Another resident said the monument wasn’t the only one in the area.
“I was disgusted because you opened the flood gate for future protesters to come here,” she said. “You didn’t have to do it that way and they will come again. You need to have a process in place.”
After the meeting, Centers said he expected the large crowd and was glad city residents were passionate. He said removal of the monument is more of a legal issue. He denied it was because of what happened in Charlottesville, Va.
Franklin City Council will be making a statement about the removal of a 90-year-old monument honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at its meeting today.
According to City Council Clerk Jane McGee, council will be making their statement during today’s 6 p.m. meeting. However, she did not know if individual council members would weigh-in on the city’s decision to remove the monument overnight last Thursday.
The controversy started last Wednesday when media outlets asked about Franklin Twp.’s plans about the monument after the violent incidents in Charlottesville, Va.
Franklin Twp. initially said it would not remove the monument, then reversed itself because it was later found to be on city-owned right of way. City officials said it was owned by the township for decades prior to the city acquiring the Dixie Highway roadway.
Later that evening, the city announced it would be removed and a city crew was sent overnight to remove the monument.
Acting City Manager Jonathan Westendorf said city crews delivered the monument to the township, but township officials would not say where it was taken.
Local and county officials were concerned about possible protests announced for Saturday by organizations for and against the removal of the monument.
By 2 p.m., protesters, many of them carrying Confederate and American flags, parked in a nearby shopping center and walked up the street. They waved the flags, and passing cars honked. There was a large police presence from the Franklin Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.