BOC to address flag controversy at meeting

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Events at Nash Farm Park and the comments of those connected to the facility over the past week have generated no shortage of controversy, and today there are still likely to be more questions than answers.

The board of Friends of Nash Farm Battlefield, Inc. issued a May 23 statement informing the community that the museum it oversees at the park would close June 1. It was this sentence that got the attention of so many people:

“The main reason is that the current District 2 Commissioner, Dee Clemmons, has requested that ALL Confederate flags be removed from the museum, in addition to the gift shop, in an effort not to offend anyone.”

Clemmons, who is black and has been in office since mid-November, called that statement “so far from the truth” in an email she sent directly to the Times. She stated last week, and has repeated to other media outlets, that she only directed for the Confederate flag flying outside to be removed along with any related artifacts that can be seen from outdoors.

“I will not apologize for asking that a Confederate flag be removed from a county-owned park and given back to the private owner as it was not a flag owned by Henry County,” she wrote. “My suggestion was to place it in the museum.”

Clemmons added that her actions led to many hate-filled comments sent to her directly and posted on social media.

She also forwarded to the Times the following email she sent March 15 to her fellow commissioners and county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter:

“There has been an overwhelming request from my constituents to remove the Confederate flag at the county-owned Nash Farm Park. I was surprised that we have this flag in our county inventory flying high for almost eight years. When I investigated further with [parks and rec director] Tim Coley, I was relieved that the flag did not belong to Henry County and that the owner would graciously place it in their personal dwelling. If any of you would like the flag placed back up speak now. If you get concerns from citizens refer them to me. After thorough research I can testify that this flag has no historical reason for being displayed on county property as it has no relevance to the undocumented battlefield. Secondly I would not want our county open to possible lawsuits for hate crimes or discrimination. Patrick, advise if we need a vote since the owner has already removed their flag.”

Jaugstetter advised “Board action would be required only if the county desires to establish an official policy or issue a directive as to the presence of flags or other displays on county property.”

The announcement of the museum closing drew public responses from fellow board members, who expressed their concerns about the sudden action and asked citizens to be patient while the process continues. The next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for June 6, and a number of citizens on both sides of the issue are expected to be in attendance.

As the matter has blown up on social media, some for the move regarding the flag and some against it, many citizens have questions the legitimacy of Clemmons’ actions in general. The county code prohibits commissioners from giving direct orders to department heads or other employees without going through the county manager. A spokesperson confirmed to the Times late last week that the county manager was not involved in any decisions or actions on this issue.

A rally took place Saturday at the park with a few hundred people reported to be in attendance.

The role of the Nash Farm site as an actual Civil War battlefield has been called into question ever since the property was first acquired by the county about a decade ago, spearheaded by then-District II Commissioner B.J. Mathis. An attempt to develop a large residential subdivision at that location was halted but that action led to a lawsuit resulting in what many citizens thought was an unnecessarily high price paid for the land, which ultimately became the county’s largest park at just over 200 acres.