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Of the people, by the people, for the people

The Lakeland City Commission and the Lakeland citizenship provided a textbook example of the power and purpose of representative democracy last night, voting 5-2 to reconsider a previous decision to use only private funds to move the Confederate cenotaph from Munn Park to Veterans Memorial Park.

The impetus came from a single citizen two years ago and has been considered and reconsidered many times since. In each instance, our local government has demonstrated its understanding of its proper role to listen, learn, and lead.

Last December, the public was invited to make its case - for and against - and did so in a polite and respectful way culminating in the commission’s decision to move the monument out of the city’s central park. The vote was 4-3.

Since then, the voters elected four new commissioners who now had to be part of the process to decide where it should go, in what condition, and how to pay for getting it there. After much debate, they settled on a three-in-one motion to move the monument to Veterans Memorial Park, in its full configuration, and to use only private contributions. The vote was 7-0.

For many, the issue seemed settled, and most realized that it was collection of compromises. But after six moths, the private support had only provided a small fraction of the estimated total required, and in spite of a personal plea from Mayor Bill Mutz, the momentum stalled.

Determined to find funding and urged on by citizen activists, Mutz proposed using some of the red-light camera fines that had been set aside while the courts decided the constitutionality of the cameras use. Nearly two million dollars accrued before the court ruled in favor of cities using the cameras to ticket red-light violators.

Mutz believed, along with others, that it was in keeping with the spirit of “no tax-payer money” to use funds generated by traffic law violations in order to accomplish the central issue of relocating the monument. In a publicly noticed Policy Workshop, the commissioners voted 4-3 to do so.

The debate was serious and passionate and generated concern among the minority that citizens would believe they had gone back on their word. The City Attorney was asked to determine whether on not the question could be put to voters as part of the special election set for January 15 to seat a new commissioner in place of Michael Dunn who resigned to face murder charges.

While that question did not arise at Monday’s session, it was determined that a super-majority ( at least five votes ) would be required to reconsider the funding plan voted on in May. Four of those five seemed assured, with Mutz and commissioners Troller, Walker, and Selvage solidly in the “Aye” camp.

Next came the public comment portion of the meeting.

For more than an hour-and-a-half - three minutes at a time - citizens rose to address the commission and state their case. The majority - 32 to 3 - supported the use of the red-light-camera fines, and did so with passion, logic, and personal stories that amplified their position.

Next came the commission’s vote, preceded by a forceful and noteworthy response from Commissioner Stephanie Madden, who commended the assembled citizens and explained how their presence and their comments had changed her mind.

“I just need ya’ll to pat yourselves on the back for being good citizens because if you hadn’t been here to share your personal stories, I would say no to revisiting this.”

The vote to reconsider the funding mechanism was 5-2, as was the vote to use whatever funding sources were available to the commission along with the collected private funds.

This is how governing gets done.

The people and their elected representatives communicating, considering, and compromising to accomplish the most important goal of community inclusion.

What happens in Tallahassee and Washington is so much less important than what we do here, as citizens and officials of Lakeland, to make it the best version of itself and to be the place we want to be.

Well done all.

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