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Denton group accuses county officials of dishonesty regarding Confederate monument

Denton group accuses county officials of dishonesty regarding Confederate monument

On Tuesday September 26; 2017 residents of Denton county gather at the Courthouse on the Square to speak during the public comment section of commissioners court. The court was called into session to discuss the formation of a historical monument committee.

Denton group accuses county officials of dishonesty regarding Confederate monument
September 26
13:26 2017

An informal group of about two dozen Denton residents submitted a document to the Denton County Commissioners’ Court Tuesday morning outlining multiple alleged offenses on the part of commissioners and city officials. The document called for the immediate appointment of a citizen’s monument committee regarding the Confederate monument on the Square.

Bryce Goodman, one of the citizens involved in researching the report, introduced the document during the public comment section of the meeting.

“Our goal is to show the malfeasance surrounding Horn and the Commissioners’ Court,” Goodman, who will be running for the Precinct 4 seat, said. “I don’t care what action is taken, I just want action to be taken.”

The document alleges that Denton County, under Judge Mary Horn, is “incapable of recognizing its failures to protect and preserve the historical significance of the monument, facilitating community or city involvement to support such efforts, or working with the Texas Historical Commission in an open, honest, and satisfactory capacity.”

Judge Horn began Tuesday’s meeting by stating her intention in putting the creation of a monument committee on the agenda solely in order to have the correct historical context on the plaque near the monument. She added the first person to be on the committee would be Willie Hudspeth.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Horn said any new wording suggestions for the plaque from the committee would be passed by the court before being sent to the Texas Historical Commission (THC) for approval. The submitted document alleges the court violated this rule twice in the past.

Horn said the court had not violated any laws in implementing the different plaques and had notified the THC of changes, though she could not confirm that with certainty

The document is dubbed the “Citizens’ Report” and addressed to Judge Horn, the Commissioners’ Court, the Texas attorney general, the Denton County Historical Commission, the THC, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Mayor Chris Watts and the Denton City Council.

Throughout five sections, the document attempts to show a pattern of negligence on behalf of the county and the resulting decline of the Confederate monument on the Square, referencing 26 exhibits which include official government documents and newspaper articles. Authors of the report included “suspected violations” of actions they think might have violated the law.

There are potential violations listed under nine sections of the report along with specific legal codes and agreements that would disallow the stated actions.

Hudspeth, 71, said the group’s original goal was to get on the monument committee being put together by the commissioners. That changed after the citizens found what they consider proof of unacceptable practices.

“Our committee who’s been researching this came up with this bible,” Hudspeth said, referring to the report. “That has produced a switch in our strategy. Now we’re just trying to get this information out.”

Failing to monitor preservation and report incidents to THC

Citizens behind the report could not find records of the court discussing the monument in meetings or reporting significant incidents to the THC, as required, through public information requests.

Such an omission could be a violation of the Texas Administrative Code and could result in the county being fined $50 to $1,000 a day while the offense is occurring.

Denial of access

One of the document’s most serious allegations is that Judge Horn intentionally denied Willie Hudspeth, a local activist on whose behalf Horn had submitted a permit application to the Texas Historical Commission, from accessing the approved permit.

In April 2003, Horn responded to Hudspeth’s questions about funding to repair the fountains on the monument with an explanation of the funding in question having been meant to repair the fountain fixtures, not to make the fountains operational.

In her correspondence with Hudspeth, Horn cites a letter from the THC dating July 2000. Her quotes give an incomplete picture of the letter’s tone and message, which is encouraging of further consultation in order to restore the fountains.

Additionally, Horn makes no reference to the more recent communication from the THC: the 2002 permit allowing for the fountains to be restored, and for the monument to be disassembled to install plumbing.

Horn said the permit was not put into use because an architect from the firm ArchiTexas, the historical preservation company hired by the county, said after an evaluation that it would damage the monument.

Providing false information

In her April 2003 letter to Hudspeth, Horn states “it would be necessary to completely dismantle the monument to install new plumbing and this is not acceptable to the THC,” in direct contradiction to the THC-issued permit from 2002.

Horn adds the fountains could not be turned on, saying they could not be made compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the water would damage the limestone of the monument and that the THC would not allow new plumbing to be installed.

The document refutes all three claims using documents obtained via public records requests.

Horn said she could not explain the situation without looking through records from the time of the letter.

ADA compatibility options

Emails from February 2002 show multiple suggestions from Robert Posey, a program specialist at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, that would allow the fountains to be ADA compliant if restored.

The document from the group of citizens states the issue could be resolved by adding a fountain at either the northeast or northwest corner of the Square because it would be located within 250 feet of the monument.

Composition of the monument

The report points out multiple sources which have referred to the monument as being made of granite or marble, not limestone. The monument being made of limestone and its resulting fragility has been cited as reasoning for not being able to restore the fountains or relocate the arch.

Denton County Civil Attorney Bill Schultz said in an email from Sept. 7, 2017 the county has “no definitive answer to its material but our best guesses are that it is made of granite, with marble insets and a marble statue.”

ArchiTexas also refers to the statue as marble in a structure report from 2000.

A Denton Record-Chronicle article commemorating the monument’s dedication in June of 1918 also said the monument is granite.

Adding plaques to the monument

The citizen-submitted report provides documentation for three separate plaques which were installed near the monument and contends that only the first had a permit.

The initial plaque wording was approved as part of the THC Courthouse Preservation Grant in July 2002. It was submitted by the firm ArchiTexas.

The court passed new language for the plaque using suggestions from Hudspeth in November 2002 and made no request for a permit according to the report.

Finally, the court approved the plaque with the current expression in March 2010, removing a reference to segregated fountains from the previous plaque as “historically inaccurate.” The report’s authors allege that, again, no permit was requested.

“I can assure you that we didn’t do anything without consulting THC before we made any changes,” Horn said in response to these allegations. “I mean, good heavens, we don’t even change the flowers around the flower bed outside the building without talking to the THC.”

After one individual’s public comment encouraged the commissioners to follow proper procedure in regards to changing the monument, Horn said any suggested changes in plaque wording would be passed by the committee and the court before going to the THC. Commissioner Mitchell interjected, saying it could be regarding a change to another aspect of the monument. Horn responded they would talk about it.

“There’s no disagreement,” Horn said. “My original intent was to have historically accurate context put together for a new plaque or plaques. If commissioners want to put together another committee to have further discussions, that’s fine.”

Featured Image: On Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, residents of Denton County gather at the Courthouse on the Square to speak during the public comment section of the Commissioners’ Court. The court was called into session to discuss the formation of a historical monument committee. Cameron Roe

About Author

Sarah Sarder

Sarah Sarder

Sarah Sarder is the Senior News Writer for the North Texas Daily.

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1 Comment

  1. Jennifer Lane
    Jennifer Lane September 27, 21:47

    Even when not gas lighting Jim Crow for 18 years, this sort of thing seems to be County Court’s standard operating procedure.

    “It’s been 615 days since former Denton residentSusan Vaughan tripped and fell on a crack in the sidewalk at the Square. The damage to her front teeth required surgery and follow-up care that cost more than $9,000. After Yvette Spicer tripped and broke her arm a few weeks later, Vaughan began a campaign for the sidewalks to be repaired. Recently, Vaughan was diagnosed with an advanced-stage cancer and she has moved to be closer to family.

    County officials announced in July that repairs were coming. They said they were working with the Texas Historical Commission to get approval for the project, since the Square is a state historic site. This week, the Denton Record-Chronicle made an open records request of the commission for documents related to the project. The commission said it has no records, no application — nor any correspondence — related to the project.”

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