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Stone Mountain City Council debates Confederate ‘stars and bars’ flag in cemetery

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Stone Mountain City Council debates Confederate ‘stars and bars’ flag in cemetery

The First flag of the Confederacy, better known as the Stars and Bars, flying over the Unknown Confederate soldier section in the Stone Mountain Cemetery. Photo by Jaedon Mason

By Jaedon Mason, contributor 

This story has been updated.

Stone Mountain, GA — During a May 16 Stone Mountain City Council meeting, a vote on a resolution to remove the Confederate flag flying in the Stone Mountain Cemetery failed with three votes for, two against, and one abstention.

Councilmember Clint Monroe raised the issue of the flag, citing the city code that says, “No flag, plaque, banner or emblem shall be displayed on city property without an affirmative resolution of the city council approving such display.”

“This is content-neutral, black-letter law,” Monroe said. “It’s against the code and should be taken down…period.” 

The flag was raised by a group celebrating the “loyalty and valor of the Confederate soldier” on April 22. In the ceremony which took place in the cemetery, several flags were on display, however, most were taken down by the group when they left, other than the “stars and bars” flag which is still waving at 1025 Silver Hill Road at the entrance to the city. The stars and bars flag is different from the more commonly known and more notorious Confederate battle flag, and is distinct from the Georgia state flag as it doesn’t have the Georgia state crest in the canton in the upper left. 

City Attorney Jeff Strickland gave more context about the code pertaining to displaying flags in the cemetery, citing language in the surrounding legislation that supported Monroe’s argument. Strickland specifically cited the size of the flag and the fact that no person can fly a flag on a burial plot without being a direct relative of the person interred within. 

However, despite this, the vote still failed, with Councilmembers Theresa Crowe and Shawnette Bryant voting against the removal of the flag. Councilmember Chakira Johnson abstained, giving similar reasons as Councilmember Crowe about wanting to get additional information about the issue. Councilmember Shawnette Bryant gave no explanation for her vote against the resolution to remove the flag. 

While Councilmembers Clint Monroe, Gil Freeman and Gina Stroud-Cox voted for the resolution, due to the abstention and since the resolution needed 4 votes to pass, it failed and there was not a tie, so the mayor did not vote.

So, the flag remains flying. Despite the failed vote, Councilmember Monroe was insistent that the code supported the removal of the flag and that the code should be enforced.

 “They put the flag up at the entrance of our city” said Monroe. “This isn’t the image we want to portray, this is the new South. We are about progress, not going backwards.”

In other city council news:

– The city council also discussed the property at 865 Main Street. The lot is right next to city hall is owned by the city and contains a blue house that has fallen into disrepair. The house was surveyed by code enforcement officers and an inspector from Kissberg Construction late last week. 

A code enforcement officer advised against trying to save the house, saying it would cost $200,000 to get it up to code.

Only Councilmember Crowe opposed the idea, saying, “How can the city tell citizens that they can’t tear down their property but we as the city can?” 

Crowe called for at least two more inspectors’ perspectives on the status of the property and to continue on, beginning the process of getting estimates from contractors for saving the property before making the decision of whether it would be too expensive to intervene to save it. 

– Public Works Director Gerald Adair updated the council on the Rockborough Drive sinkhole. To remove some of the heavier debris, the area needs to be excavated another 4 feet around the pipe, with an estimated cost of $12,000. This project is set to proceed once the city receives a formal quote. 

– The city received a $200,000 Livable Centers Initiative Grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission. The grant is for a study to “help communities reimagine their downtowns, create vibrant transit corridors and promote live-work-play environment,” per the ARC website. The city will be using the grant to commission a study on how to connect the four major parks and the mountain using a walking trail. Stone Mountain was one of four cities that received the highest level of grant funding. 

– City Attorney Strickland presented seven draft revisions to existing ordinances. Mainly the changes are meant to bring existing codes in line with changes in state law, and changes to clarify and clean up other parts of the code.  

— Carl Wright was appointed to the planning commission in a vote of 4-2. 

Councilmember Freeman and Councilmember Monroe voted no, expressing concerns about Wright serving on the Stone Mountain Downtown Development Authority as well. Councilmember Chakira Johnson pointed out the lack of applicants, a concern echoed by Councilmember Stroud-Cox, while Wright received full throated endorsement from Councilmember Crowe for being instrumental in planning the city’s beautification initiative.  

– In honor of Law Enforcement Week, Police Chief James Westerfield gave commendations to Officer Elizabeth Hilton, Officer Luis Cruz, Detective Mary Swisher and Officer Fredric Whitehead. Officer Cruz also received a Humanitarian Award. 

Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrect date and misidentified a councilmember. This story has been updated to correct these errors. 

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