Leaders of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission were silent Tuesday about the city of Lexington’s surprise removal last month of two controversial Confederate statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse.
Tuesday marked the first meeting of the commission since Lexington removed the statues after state Attorney General Andy Beshear issued an opinion that said the commission does not have jurisdiction over the statues.
The city had previously said the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission had to approve the removal of the statues, but Beshear ruled the commission did not have authority because the Urban County Council never authorized former Mayor Teresa Isaac to give up local authority to the commission in 2003.
The Lexington council voted unanimously in August to move the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, the last Confederate secretary of war. The board of the Lexington Cemetery later tentatively agreed to take the statues.
The statues had stood in downtown Lexington for more than 130 years. Both Breckinridge and Morgan are buried at the cemetery, and private donors are providing an endowment to pay for the upkeep and security of the statues there.
The Lexington statues were not on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting, and none of the five members mentioned them during the hour-long meeting in the Capitol Annex.
After the meeting, the commission’s chairman, Colonel M. Blaine Hedges, was asked by a reporter if the commission had any objections to the city’s removal of the statues.
Hedges, who is executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, said he was aware of the city’s actions “but the reality is that that scenario was not on the agenda today.”
Asked if the topic will be on the agenda of its next meeting, scheduled for May 15, 2018, Hedges said, “Sir, I will tell you it’s not on the agenda today.”
“Normally what happens is when things are put on the agenda there is a process out there that (spokeswoman) Diane (Comer) kind of articulated and then we all have an opportunity to go back and do some study and research on what is either being brought forward or whatever,” he said. “The reality is that it wasn’t on the agenda today and that’s all I’ve really got on that.”
The commission’s legal counsel, Will Adams, referred reporters’ questions to Cody Patterson, spokesman for the state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.
When asked if the military heritage commission has concerns about the Lexington statues, Patterson said “all I’m aware of at this time is what was on the agenda and the Lexington statues were not on the commission’s agenda today and that’s all I have to say.”
Asked if the state plans to sue the city, Patterson said any legal questions should be referred to Adams, the commission’s legal counsel.
A spokesperson for Gov. Matt Bevin did not immediately respond to a question about whether the state will contest the city’s decision to remove the statues.