Madison City Council overturns Confederate monument decision, supports removal
The Madison City Council backed the removal of a Confederate monument in Forest Hill Cemetery Tuesday after it overrode a commission decision that called for the monument to remain.
Council members voted 16-2 to overturn the Landmarks Commission’s ruling that barred the removal of a large, stone monument that lists the names of about 140 prisoners-of-war buried in a section of the cemetery known as Confederate Rest.
“You don’t have discussion in a cemetery. You have reflection, and you have memories, and this (monument) brings up memories that are not so pleasant in our history,” said Council Vice President Sheri Carter.
Alds. Paul Skidmore and Mike Verveer voted against overturning the decision. Alds. Rebecca Kemble and Steve King were absent.
In April, the City Council voted to remove the monument. But since Forest Hill Cemetery, 1 Speedway Road, is a designated landmark, the Landmarks Commission needed to weigh in on whether the removal was appropriate.
Commissioners voted 3-1 last month to reject an application for the monument ’s removal, arguing that taking it out would go against the city’s historic preservation ordinance.
“I don’t quarrel with what the Landmarks Commission did. They’re looking at it through a historic preservation lens, which is their job. But our lens is a different job. Our lens is what’s the best public policy for this city,” said Ald. Allen Arntsen, whose 13th District includes Forest Hill Cemetery. Arntsen called for an appeal to the Landmarks decision.
The monument was installed in 1906 and funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy, a group some have argued promotes a false narrative about the Civil War that glorifies the Confederate cause. But others have argued that the monument simply acts as a grave marker for weathering headstones in the Confederate Rest.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved selling $108 million in general obligation debt — an annual action the city takes to finance capital projects — as the outlook on the city’s credit rating has changed.
Moody’s Investors Service kept Madison’s general obligation credit rating at Aaa, the highest rating the company gives, but changed the outlook of the rating from stable to negative given the $6 million deficit the Madison Water Utility is facing.
“While Madison’s credit profile remains solid, we believe general finance operations are exposed to near-term pressures facing the city’s water system given the city’s close governing ties and coterminous service area,” a Moody’s analysis of the city’s credit rating said.
David Schmiedicke, the city’s finance director, said he didn’t think the change in the credit outlook had an effect on the sale of the debt Tuesday.
In other action, more funds were awarded to a Madison-based law firm in case additional legal help is needed in the public-private Judge Doyle Square development Downtown.
Beitler Real Estate Services, of Chicago, dropped a federal lawsuit last month against the city about a dispute over construction and ownership responsibilities on a portion of the $186 million project. The city initially authorized a $50,000 retainer for Stroud, Willink & Howard to assist in the lawsuit. More than $40,000 of that money has already been used.
Tuesday’s vote released another $50,000 retainer to the law firm “in the event of any further litigation regarding the Judge Doyle Square project,” according to a resolution authorizing the funds.