The Anniston City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to move a Confederate monument from the median of Quintard Avenue to a Civil War-themed park in rural Calhoun County.
The sole vote against the measure came from Ben Little, one of two Black members of the council.
“This is intentionally, willfully and knowingly a violation of the law,” Little said.
The council vote means the city will remove an obelisk in the Quintard median at 12th Street that is dedicated to John Pelham, the Confederate artillery officer from Alexandria who is the area’s best-known Civil War soldier. He is also memorialized in Jacksonville, where the main thoroughfare is called Pelham Road.
The Pelham obelisk and other local Confederate monuments came under renewed scrutiny earlier this year in the nationwide wave of protests that followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis policeman.
Council members plan to move the monument to Janney Furnace, a park in Ohatchee that already contains a monument to local Confederate soldiers, built next to a Civil War-era foundry. County Commissioner Eli Henderson, an advocate for the park, has often said he’d like to see the park housing Confederate monuments rejected by city governments.
The council’s Tuesday vote also authorizes the city to pay up to $25,000 in fines for moving the obelisk. A 2017 state law prohibits removal of monuments and renaming of most buildings and streets named for historic figures.
Little in the past has criticized the proposed monument removal as a distraction, saying the council should focus instead on police misconduct and other racial justice issues. On Tuesday, though, his questions were primarily about the state law. Could a city, he asked, knowingly disobey a state law?
“There’s not a law that allows a city to break the law,” said city attorney Bruce Downey, who addressed the socially distanced council by cell phone. Downey said removing the monument would be a violation of civil law, not a criminal matter, and there was little to stop a city willing to pay the $25,000 fine.
City Manager Steven Folks said it’s still unclear when the monument will be removed, or how much it will cost to move it. He said the city is in talks with the county about the move, and much of the work would be done “in-house” with city workers.
The council also voted 5-0 to ask Sheriff Matthew Wade to prohibit Deputy Josh Doggrell from patrolling in Anniston’s police jurisdiction, a zone surrounding the city that is patrolled by Anniston police even though it is outside city limits.
Doggrell was a high-ranking member of Anniston’s police department until the city fired him in 2015 over his membership in the League of the South, a secessionist group. Doggrell sued the city over the firing, saying that he was openly a member of the group for years without falling afoul of city officials. None of his lawsuits has been successful.
For years, the League often claimed publicly to be a non-racist group, even as watchdog groups found statements by League leaders that suggested otherwise. After the League marched openly with neo-Nazis in the 2017 Charlottesville protests, Doggrell told The Star he had severed ties with the group.
Council members said they were concerned about the city's responsibility, should a racial incident arise involving deputies in an area patrolled by the city.
“If an incident did happen, I worry about that,” said Councilman David Reddick.
Mayor Jack Draper said he was typically reluctant to intervene in a matter involving the sheriff — but not this time.
“While generally speaking a government should not inquire into another government’s operations, this is a unique situation,” he said. Because the city and the county share authority over the police jurisdiction, he said, the city has a say.
Sheriff Matthew Wade, in a telephone interview after the meeting, said the vote was “an Aug. 25 decision” — a reference to city elections coming up in three weeks. He said there was no conflict between his office and the Anniston Police Department and that he would decide where to send his deputies.
“I will not be bullied by the Anniston City Council and neither will my officers,” he said.