Editorial: Question anything that government does under cover of night

Michael Gold, Trustee

I am a native Floridian.  A St Augustinian, to be exact.  When the world was young, my business took me to Georgia where I had occasion to travel to a few large cities as well as a state-full of small rural communities.  After all those years spent growing up here, the southeastern-most state in the nation, it was during those seven years in Georgia that I learned something else about me.  I am also “a Southerner”; a heritage to be celebrated.

Friday we will celebrate the birthday of Pedro Menendez de Aviles; the conquistador and European explorer who settled St Augustine in 1565.  Florida grew up under the flags of five nations.  It is the Second Spanish Period that has been the focus of our restored architecture, historic education and, except for the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, most of our attractions.

Guess what?  I am not Spanish or of Spanish descent.  I never got to be part of the city’s Royal Family and Entourage because I am not a Minorcan.   I cannot even speak the Spanish language.  Anyone else shocked that Flagler Hospital would agree to deliver me under such adverse conditions?  My father used to tell me, “Not everybody gets to be an astronaut, Michael!”

The year 2020 was not over soon enough for me.  Besides the natural disasters we face in Florida, throw in a worldwide pandemic, and a government mandate to stay cooped up in your home while you watch your business, your employer, and your bank account simply fade away.  It seems to me, especially during the course of the 2020 elections, both locally and nationally, ordinarily good citizens have sunken to the acts of common thugs.

When that happens, you cannot tell me that people do not realize that what they are doing is wrong.  Like when three commissioners of the City of St Augustine went against the will of local taxpayers and rushed to remove a memorial to 46 residents whose bodies were not returned for burial after they were killed in the American Civil War.  Aided by a corrupt city manager, city workers were standing by in the plaza while the meeting was still going on that night, before any public comment was considered, before any vote was taken.  When the signal was given, the workers went about boarding up the memorial that sat quietly and peacefully for more than 140-years.

On the day the monument that marked the burial site of General William Wing Loring was uprooted, bisected, loaded onto a high-tech dolly, then moved aboard a barge that would float it and the 100-ton confederate memorial up to Jacksonville, though the channel of the St Johns River, then back down to private property at the Trout River Memorial Park, work started without notice in the pre-dawn hours.

Something else my father used to tell me, “Question anything that government does under cover of night, Michael!”

This weekend, I learned that late Thursday night, under cover of darkness, county employees removed another confederate monument — this one from in front of the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse in Lawrenceville, a small town outside of Atlanta.  The removal comes after Gwinnett County commissioners decided to have the monument placed in storage last month amid an ongoing legal challenge.

The resolution passed by the local body indicated that not taking down the monument could “result in additional acts of vandalism and create a public safety concern.”  But in statements to the local paper, the night it was removed, it sounded like a lot of gloating politicians.

One of those commissioners, Kirkland Carden, told the Gwinnett Daily Post that this action fulfills a “campaign promise” made during his recent election.  The local county commissioner reportedly pushed for the monument’s removal during his campaign.

“This was a long time coming, and it does feel good to follow through on a campaign promise that was important to so many Gwinnettians,” Carden said in the press.  “You know we started this petition on Juneteenth [June 19] of 2020.  Fast-forward, here we are now, so I think this is a good start to build a better tomorrow, which was my campaign slogan.”

Had to get a state politician in on the handshaking and baby-kissing.  The move was also cheered by Georgia Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D), who called the removal “sweet on so many levels” in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I feel more like a Gwinnettian today than I did yesterday,” she said while also noting that the monument was erected in the same town square where Charles Hale, a Black man, had been lynched more than a century ago.

It’s 2021 now, right? “Not everybody gets to be an astronaut, Michael!”