County prepares to move Confederate monument
County administrator to create list of possible sites for statue.
By Bill Thompson
Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 6:30 a.m.
The Confederate monument that stood guard in front of the Marion County Courthouse for nearly a century, only to be stuck in a corner two years ago as the facility was expanded, is likely moving.
On Tuesday, the County Commission appeared to reach a consensus to relocate the statue of the Confederate infantryman, known commonly as "Johnny Reb."
That came after Ocala lawyer Lanny Curry proposed a public-private partnership to relocate the 101-year-old monument and volunteered to help raise the estimated $25,000 needed to move it from its present location, a nook on the building's south side fronting Northwest First Street.
To further the project, commissioners agreed to set up an account with the court clerk's office to accept tax-exempt donations and accepted Commissioner Charlie Stone's offer to serve as a liaison to work with Curry and other parties interested in finding Johnny Reb a new home.
County Administrator Lee Niblock said he would prepare at least three new locations for the board to consider at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 1.
Niblock indicated that the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park, a site favored by many, is one option. Leaving the monument where it is will be offered as another, he added. As for where else it might go, Niblock was mum, only saying the spot would reflect the statue's "historical significance."
Johnny Reb was removed in 2007 from the front of the courthouse in downtown Ocala in preparation for a $41-million expansion.
Other than spending a four-year stint in storage in the late 1980s when the courthouse was last renovated, the two-story-tall, 15-ton statue has been a fixture at the facility's entrance since being dedicated in April 1908.
The current courthouse project is expected to be completed in January.
Former county administrator Pat Howard had designated Johnny Reb's current location as permanent and Niblock was inclined to concur unless the County Commission directed otherwise. Curry, a U.S. Navy veteran and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, appealed to the board to find a "suitable location" for the monument.
Relating that his great-grandfather, Lawton Curry, was a Confederate soldier in the Florida cavalry who had been wounded in battle, Curry said it was not "in a place of honor and not in a proper location."
His preference is the veterans' park, at Fort King Street and Southeast 25th Avenue, about two miles from where Johnny Reb is now situated.
Curry also said he was trying to fulfill a commitment to the late Tommy Needham, a former county commissioner and impetus for the park.
"I promised him that I would not let the issue go away," Curry told the commission.
Curry said he felt strongly about the need to sustain the memory of the efforts of those who fought in the Civil War.
While the monument has periodically ignited controversy as civil rights groups complained it is an affront to blacks, the commission's reluctance to overrule Howard's decision was primarily rooted in the cost of moving it.
Relocating the statue requires a specialized moving company that can dismantle its three fitted parts and reassemble it.
Stone suggested the board could perhaps convince some company to offer in-kind services to move it.
Once the cost issue is resolved, the monument should be placed in a more prominent position, Stone offered.
"It's just not in a location where people can see it on an ongoing basis," he said.
In other action, the board learned that Marion County had received almost $2.5 million in federal stimulus funding to make the courthouse and some county offices more energy efficient.
Roughly $727,000 of that amount will be used to install new cooling units to replace the 50-year-old units at the courthouse's heating and air conditioning system. An additional $303,000 will be spent to replace the facility's windows and lighting.
Another $450,000 will go for installing solar heating panels at the Marion County Jail.
Other improvements include updating traffic signals, installing waterless urinals, improving lighting and air conditioning at three county firehouses and replacing windows.
"It's a huge accomplishment that will save the citizens a ton of money," Commissioner Stan McClain observed.
Congress passed President Barack Obama's $787-billion spending program in February.