The hasty removal of two Confederate monuments Wednesday overnight has sparked a number of questions into the specifics of the transaction between Memphis city officials and the virtually unknown non-profit corporation that bought the properties, called “Memphis Greenspace.”
Shelby County Commission member Van Turner held a press conference Thursday to begin to answer those questions, beginning with the fact that he is the director of “Memphis Greenspace.”
WREG News Channel 3 was in Memphis to cover the presser:
Memphis Greenspace, the nonprofit group that purchased two controversial city parks Wednesday, announced plans for recently purchased public parks after the removal of two Confederate statues during a press conference Thursday morning.
Memphis Greenspace plans to renovate the parks so they can be a safe place for children and more accessible to the public.
Van Turner, the director of the non-profit organization and a Shelby County commissioner, led the press conference. He addressed critics of the purchase during the press conference.
“This is not a shady deal. It’s a legal deal,” he said. “I presented this solution to Bruce McMullen, the city attorney for the city of Memphis, and he has consistently been an advocate for the removal of these statues legally.”
The Confederate statues have been moved to an undisclosed location.
Not everyone agrees with Turner’s assertion that the means by which the park was transferred to his non-profit was “a legal deal.”
In fact, Local Memphis reported that “Many are anticipating legal challenges by statue supporters, possibly an open meetings challenge because there was not a lot of discussion during regular council meetings about transferring ownership of the park.”
One challenge is likely to come from the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“Lee Millar with the Sons of Confederate Veterans believes the city violated several laws, including desecrating a grave, because Forrest and his wife are buried there. Millar says he’s discussed legal options with attorneys. Don’t be surprised if his group files suit against the city and the park’s new owner,” Local Memphis reported.
“They certainly violated the Heritage Protection Act, both of them. Doing this by attempting to sell it to a private entity is a direct attempt to circumvent state law,” Millar told Local Memphis.
Turner did not comment on whether he or city attorney McMullen asked Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery on the legality of their actions.
As The Tennessee Star reported in the wee hours Thursday morning as the monuments were being removed, it is unclear whether the actions of the Memphis City Council and Mayor Jim Strickland legally circumvent state law, or are in fact a brazen violation of state law. Either way, the Tennessee General Assembly are sure to investigate when they convene in Nashville next month.
Across the state, Tennessee Star polling shows that likely Republican primary voters reject the notion of removing Civil War monuments by a large margin of 64 percent, while only 26 percent are less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes the removal of these monuments.
Watch video of the press conference: