BAYHAM: General Lee And The Busted Budget

On Tuesday it was revealed that only one contractor submitted a bid to remove the “Confederate 3.” And said bid came in at $600,000, over three times the projected cost of $170,000.

That the city made such a ridiculous lowball estimate on construction work involving the displacement of tons of concrete, bronze, and marble and hauling it to a warehouse is the latest absurd turn in this political opera.

Only ISIS is capable of engaging in monument removal at that bargain basement price.

In fact the cost of just removing one statue would almost entirely consume the entire budget for removing all of them.

On what basis was that dollar figure set?

Did anyone call around for ballpark estimates and consult similar monument removals in other cities?

With political correctness blazing across the south like General Sherman, there should have been no shortage of monument removal comparables for City Hall to develop something more realistic.

Or was the $170,000 a political figure, a dreamed up arbitrary low-budget number to support the whole “no fuss” façade of pulling down the monuments?

Perhaps $170,000 was simply the number a donor agreed to pony up and New Orleans just hoped that the bid would match the check.

This latest news is another setback for City Hall, as their hopes for a swift scrapping of an integral part of New Orleans’ past on the eve of the Tricentennial celebration has been thwarted by lawsuits, public outcry, and now a severely busted budget.

And even if the city accepts the $600,000 bid, there’s the possibility, scratch that, probability cost overruns could push the total expense into seven figures.

Plucking a 17 foot, 7,000 pound bronze General Lee from atop a 90 foot marble column in the midst of a busy traffic circle can’t be done on the cheap.  And it’s probably going to take a lot more than $150,000 to drag General Beauregard and his horse of their pedestal in front of City Parl.

And it’s not like the Monument Task Committee, which maintains the memorials at no cost to the taxpayers, didn’t warn the city about this very thing.  The MTC’s Pierre McGraw said in August 2015 that the total cost of relocating the statues and obelisk would be $1.1 million.

I wonder if that generous benefactor who agreed to cover the bowdlerization tab is willing to dig thrice deeper into his pockets or if the city would be willing to simply give this angel the statues as a trade.

Assuming such a swap is even legal.

Or will the taxpayers of New Orleans shoulder the burden by having the funds of a city department, say the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, be reallocated for the Stalinization of the city landscape?

Sorry kids, we have to close this <fill in the blank> facility earlier now because of a budget cut caused by the removal of statues of people you’ve never heard of!

Talk about doing something for the sake of the children, paid for by the children.

So far the city of New Orleans has yet to even announce a plan for the final disposition of the monuments.  That is just as troubling as their removal.

These are historic pieces of public art funded by citizens, albeit seven generations removed from this era, and their ultimate fate is amazingly still unknown.

At least as far as the general public is concerned though I have a hard time believing that this undertaking was initiated without some idea of a preferred conclusion.

As disagreeable as the act of removing historic edifices is in principle, that there are so many unanswered questions is disturbing.

The monuments issue has now shifted from being about consensus over historic landmarks to a matter of governmental transparency.

The public has a right to know:

1) how the removal and storage of these monuments will be financed, and in particular what public monies will be redirected toward this project in light of the $600,00 bid and the likelihood that the final costs will be far in excess of that;

2) in the event the city of New Orleans will relinquish control/ownership of the monuments, the manner by which they will be disposed, whether to a public agency, a private foundation, or a private citizen or a combination thereof;

3) the monuments’ final destination upon leaving their temporary storage in a city government warehouse.

Until these very important questions are answered, the city should suspend this operation and let the decisions regarding the removal be taken up by the soon to be elected new mayor and city council.

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