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By a 4-1 vote Tuesday Putnam County Commissioners voted to move the Confederate statue from the courthouse following several months of rallies and counter rallies. The decision came after more than three hours of discussion where citizens had a chance to speak if they had access to the internet, the Zoom program was working and they could be online at 2 in the afternoon.
One who could speak was local attorney Charlie Douglas, who represented the Putnam Chamber of Commerce which recently came out supporting moving the statue. Also speaking was the Rev. Karl Flagg, pastor of Mt. Tabor First Baptist Church and a former commissioner, and Joe Pickens, president of St. Johns River State College, whose brother is a county commissioner. They represented a group calling itself Common Ground who came out at the last minute to support moving the statue. Many of the members of that group also belong to a group that bought a building on the corner of Second Street and St. Johns Avenue they say they’re going to renovate and use to help rebuild downtown viability. Currently it remains the location of the Bingo Palace.
Their arguments for moving the statue included if they didn’t Palatka would get a reputation for being racist and that would discourage potential new residents and investors. They also said not moving the statue could potentially open up the town to rioters who would come in and destroy downtown. Individuals called in seeking to have the issue go to a public vote and others urged commissioners not to give into bullying in the hope it would end dissent. An effort by Commissioner Jeff Rawls to put the issue on the November ballot failed for lack of a second, thus taking the matter out of the public’s hands. Several times commissioners said they were elected to represent the public. They said they knew the majority of citizens would vote to retain the statue and that would disenfranchise the minority.
It’s the same argument Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill has used before commissioners when urging them to keep the issue from a vote by the public. Commissioners didn’t come up with a place to put the statue except to say it would remain on country property. They will appoint a committee to give them suggestions about where to put the statue. The commission at one point talked about putting the statue at Veterans Park in East Palatka where they said it would be safer. That’s a strip of land next to Memorial Bridge that is part of where the original Memorial Bridge was located. Also at the site is one of four Doughboy statues commemorating those who fought in World War I. Several months ago a yellow rope was found around the neck of one of the statues on the Palatka side of the bridge. Commissioners did say they wouldn’t pay for moving the statue — funding would have to be raised privately. No word on whether the statue, nearly 100 years old, structurally will be able to survive the move.
Florida Department of Health in Putnam County on Tuesday reported four new coronavirus cases plus one transfer bringing the total to 1,730 cases. In Flagler County eight cases were reported bringing the total to 1,266. St. Johns County reported 35 cases for a total of 4,197.
Flagler County gets to claim a first in courts. Seventh Judicial Circuit court administrator Mark Weinberg says an in-person jury trial in Flagler Monday is “believed to be the first in Florida since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic.” The trial involved a 22-yearold Gainesville man, Brian Keith Johnson, who 13 months ago was arrested with two other men and charged with stealing a car in Gainesville and crashing into a truck in Palm Coast after a chase. He was found guilty and in six weeks faces sentencing, which could mean up to 20 years in jail. While the jury and court personnel were at the trial, the public wasn’t allowed inside but could watch on Zoom.
A semi that flipped on Interstate 95 Tuesday morning tied up two southbound lanes early Tuesday morning for more than an hour. St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office reported the accident happened near International Golf Parkway. The driver reportedly had only minor injuries.
In Putnam County, Crescent City’s water department drew praise after a waterline issue led to no water in town Monday night. Crews turned out during the night to make needed repairs and restore water. As of Tuesday the city advised a precautionary boil water notice. Officials are advising all water used for drinking, cooking, making ice, brushing teeth or washing dishes be boiled. A rolling boil of one minute is sufficient. Bottle water can be used. Once water testing is completed, the notice will be lifted. That usually takes a couple of days. For more, call utility billing at 386-698-2525.
This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.