Donor paying for New Orleans' Confederate monuments’ removal likely to remain secret

The anonymous donor who is paying to remove four New Orleans monuments related to the Confederacy will apparently manage to remain out of the spotlight, giving the money to a private foundation that will in turn write a check to the city.

The private group involved is called the Foundation for Louisiana, officials said Tuesday. And because the foundation is not subject to public-records laws, the arrangement will likely allow whoever the donor is to remain anonymous.

The foundation’s chief executive officer and president, Flozell Daniels Jr., said Tuesday that the group has yet to receive the donation to cover the estimated $170,000 cost to remove the monuments.

They include statues of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Lee Circle, Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Jefferson Davis Parkway and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at the entrance to City Park, as well as a monument on Iberville Street near the river honoring the so-called Battle of Liberty Place, an 1874 rebellion against the state’s biracial Reconstruction-era government by a group of former Confederates seeking to restore white “home rule.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to remove the four monuments won approval from the City Council by a 6-1 vote in December after months of emotional debate. But all four remain in place pending the outcome of a lawsuit aimed at preventing the city from taking them down.

Landrieu’s administration filed its response to the lawsuit this week ahead of a hearing on the case scheduled for Thursday. Lawyers for the city said all of the dozen arguments made by groups hoping to keep the monuments in place are either “frivolous,” “make no sense” or are “entirely without merit.”

Contrary to the various claims set out in the lawsuit, the city said it has the right to determine what statues sit on public property; that the National Register of Historic Places does not shield the monuments in question from removal; and that federally funded streetcar improvements nearby do not entitle the monuments to stringent federal historic protection standards.

The city also rejects the idea that the Monumental Task Committee, one of the named plaintiffs, has gained partial ownership of the statues because the group’s volunteers have done restoration work on them.

Nor would removing the monuments violate the volunteers’ First Amendment right to express themselves by cleaning and repairing the statues, the city argues.

In the meantime, Landrieu’s administration has moved ahead with preparations for taking the monuments down. Court documents show the city’s arrangement with the Foundation for Louisiana was finalized last week, and crews could be seen taking measurements of the Jefferson Davis monument Monday morning.

Those workers are employed by H&O Investments, one of the contractors in a pool of firms pre-approved for small and emergency city projects, officials in the Landrieu administration said Tuesday.

The Hayride, a conservative website, reported in September that workers who identified themselves as H&O employees were seen measuring the Beauregard monument.

But city officials told The New Orleans Advocate in December that no contractor had yet been hired to remove the monuments. City officials would not say Tuesday when H&O was hired or detail the scope of work the company has been given.

The administration can’t actually remove the monuments until a judge rules in its favor. Should that happen, the monuments will be stored in a city-owned warehouse until further plans are made for their use.

From the foundation’s perspective, the donation aimed at paying for the monuments’ removal is no different from any other gift received from a private donor, Daniels said. The foundation is private, which makes it difficult to identify its donors. The group’s publicly available filings with the IRS do not spell out where all of its funding comes from.

Daniels, whose group had not taken a public stance on the issue, said the foundation supports “having representative spaces and places, public spaces, that honor the people who live in this community.”

The foundation is not, however, taking a position on the lawsuit’s merits, he said.

Jeff Adelson contributed to this story.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.

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