Duval County

Newly obtained memo raises question: Did Jacksonville mayor overstep in removing monument?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Newly obtained documents are raising additional questions about whether Mayor Donna Deegan had the legal authority to order the removal of the Confederate monument in Springfield Park back in December.

Action News Jax obtained a memo drafted by the Office of General Counsel in June of 2020 for former Mayor Lenny Curry that concluded the mayor did not have the unilateral authority to remove or relocate the Monument dedicated to the Women of the Southland.

Action News Jax first submitted a records request with the city seeking the memo on January 4.

Twelve days later, we followed up and were told there were no records in response to our request.

Even after revising our request to expand the time range, we were told the record did not exist two more times during an exchange of several emails.

On Friday, Action News Jax managed to obtain a copy of the memo through anonymous sources.

That source also provided us with three additional OGC memos pertaining to Confederate monument removal that had been issued during the time frame we included in our records request with the city.


When we forwarded copies of the documents to the city demanding answers, the city finally acknowledged the existence of the records.

“I was actually about to send you these exact opinions,” Assistant General Counsel Craig Feiser responded ten minutes after we had forwarded the documents.

The mayor’s office offered an explanation for the issues obtaining the memo.

“The public records office was at first not aware of prior OGC opinions on this issue. When asked, research was done and the materials you requested were provided,” said Melissa Ross, Mayor Deegan’s Director of Strategic Initiative & Liaison to the Press.

The 2020 memo requested by the Curry administration states that due to the monument’s added protections as a historic structure, its relocation or removal would require approval from the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission.

According to the memo, that approval would come in the form of a certificate of appropriateness (COA) issued by the commission.

“The issue that continues to bubble up from everybody I talk to is the COA and the historic nature of that statue,” said Council President Ron Salem (R-Group 2 At-Large) in an interview with Action News Jax Friday.

RELATED: Difficult questions and answers behind Confederate monument removal in Springfield Park

The 2020 memo directly contradicts conclusions made by the city’s new General Counsel Michael Fackler, who issued the December draft opinion used by the Deegan administration to justify the monument’s removal later that same month.

In the draft opinion, Fackler argued the monument likely did not have historical protections and could be taken down by the mayor without obtaining a COA.

President Salem argued the conflicting OGC opinions add to the litany of questions he and other council members have about the process Mayor Deegan used to facilitate the removal of the monument.

“I think there were several flaws in the process and I think there are important issues here that I want to get to the bottom of and many of my colleagues are in agreement with that. They want to understand all the issues here and how the general counsel came to this conclusion,” said Salem.

Action News Jax also learned the 2020 memo wasn’t the only instance where OGC argued Jacksonville’s mayor didn’t have the authority to move the Springfield Confederate monument on their own.

A second memo drafted in July of 2023, just weeks after Deegan took office but before Fackler was appointed, came to the same conclusion.

It raises the question: Why did Fackler come to the opposite conclusion just five months later?

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“Obviously she asked the question again and got a different answer and many of us on the council have issues with his reasoning on coming to that conclusion,” said Salem.

City Council Member Kevin Carrico (R-District 4) also took issue with the reversal from OGC.

“At the end of the day, the Deegan administration decided to get their desired political outcome regardless of the facts and past legal precedent. Unfortunately this creates distrust that is hard to earn back,” said Carrico in a written statement.

The mayor’s office however, argued the question asked in July was different than the one asked in December.

“The draft July opinion was a broad look at historical classification of the monument not tailored to any specific alteration of it. The draft December opinion looked specifically at the work to be performed and determined that a certificate of appropriateness (COA) was not needed,” said COJ Chief Communications Officer Philip Perry.

After the December draft opinion was initially issued, President Salem requested a formal opinion from Fackler regarding the mayor’s authority to remove the monument.

In that official opinion, which was released earlier this week, Fackler backed away from his initial argument that the monument did not have historical protections.

Instead, he argued those protections would only apply if the monument was demolished, not altered, which is how he characterized the removal in December.

“There are a number of issues here that are coming up almost daily about this whole process,” said Salem.

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We asked the mayor’s office about Fackler’s apparent shift in reasoning.

“As this opinion was being finalized in January, the Office of General Counsel dived deeper into the enacting legislation and identified a more accurate reasoning for why a COA wasn’t needed, a conclusion which remained unchanged,” said Perry.

Aside from the evolving legal rationale, Salem told Action News Jax he was never personally consulted by Fackler about the opinion he’d requested, but Salem claims Fackler did have conversations with the mayor’s office.

Salem said he plans to address his concerns with Fackler in an upcoming hearing scheduled for next Thursday.

“Clarify some issues around privilege between him and myself and what he did with that document when he met with the mayor, if he met with the mayor. He said he met with the mayor’s staff. I’m not sure who was in that meeting, but I’m going to find out,” said Salem.

Despite the concerns expressed by Salem, the mayor’s office told Action News Jax Mayor Deegan stands behind Fackler.

“Mayor Deegan has total confidence in Michael Fackler,” said Ross.

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