Thursday, December 2, 2021

Oxford Aldermen Will Not File Lawsuit on Confederate Monument Land Ownership

The Oxford Board of Aldermen voted – again – to not pursue a lawsuit with Lafayette County to determine who owns the land where the Confederate monument stands on the south side of the Courthouse in the Square.

The first vote took place on Oct. 6 in an executive session meeting, which was closed to the public. Local governments can discuss certain matters in executive sessions legally. Possible litigation is one of those allowed topics.

In that meeting, the Board voted 4 to 3 not to legally pursue the issue of ownership.

On Tuesday night, the aldermen voted again, 4 to 3 against taking the matter to court. In both cases, Aldermen John Morgan, Jason Bailey, Rick Addy and Mark Huelse voted against pursuing the issue while Aldermen Janice Antonow, Preston Taylor and Kesha Howell Atkinson voted in favor of taking the matter to court.

The issue came up in June when Mayor Robyn Tannehill was contacted by local citizens asking the city to look into whether it might actually own the land the statue sits on. The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors had just recently voted not to relocate the monument.

A photo of the map on file with the Lafayette County Tax Assessor’s Office shows an octagon shape around the Courthouse as to the land the county owns but does not include the section of sidewalk where the monument stands; however, City Attorney Pope Mallette said the picture is not an official deed.

Mallette presented the research he and Bart Robinson, the chief operating officer for the city of Oxford, have compiled that showed in May 1868, the Lafayette County Board of Police – what the governing board was then called – conveyed “that portion of the County property known as the Public or Court Square” to the governing authorities of the Town of Oxford “in fee simple forever,” which is the highest possible ownership interest that can be held in real property.

The agreement called to allow the County to request the property back “if it requested the same for construction of a new courthouse, provided the County repaid the Town for its expenses in repairing the Square.”

No record of the County requesting the land be given back had been found, although Mallette said many of the old records were damaged or lost.

Some of the records show the city issuing permits for the sidewalk area, and others show the county doing the same in more recent years. However, Lafayette County has maintained the Courthouse and its grounds since the courthouse was re-constructed and the city has maintained the sidewalks, but at times, both governments paid to maintain the sidewalks jointly.

In a written statement read at the meeting by Tannehill Tuesday, she said that due to the lack of strong evidence of ownership, and to protect the relationship between the city and county boards, the aldermen will not be taking the matter to court.

“At this time, the Board of Aldermen believes that there is information that suggests that the property the monument sits is questionable but has no definitive answer to this issue,” she read.

Tannehill said in the statement that she believes the majority of the Board of Aldermen would support moving the monument to an alternate location had it been conclusively determined that it was on city property.

“The intention of the Board of Aldermen at this time is to move forward and address other important issues in our community but will remain committed to discussing this issue with the Board of Supervisors in the event they reconsider,” Tannehill said.

Alderman Howell-Atkinson made a motion to affirm the statement that the “majority of the Board would support moving the monument.” However, Aldermen Morgan made a subsequent motion to table that motion for a definitive amount of time.

“I agree with the statement,” Morgan said. “But I just don’t think we should vote on something that might have happened.”

Morgan’s motion passed 4 to 3.

Oxford resident Billy Crews addressed the Board and asked them to reconsider their vote and take the matter to court to get a definitive answer as to which entity owns the statue.

“Public displays on government property should reflect the interest of all citizens,” he said. “Symbols from an era of racism do not honor all citizens.”