The entrance lobby in the Williamson County courthouse features the Williamson County seal on the floor, which includes a Confederate flag.(Photo: Shelley Mays/The Tennessean )
After a three-and-a-half hour debate with multiple amendments introduced, the Williamson County Board of Commissioners voted 18-5 to approve the formation of a nine-member task force to study the Williamson County seal, which has an image of the Confederate flag.
Commissioners voting against the move included Judy Herbert, 3rd District;Bert Chalfant, 7th District; GreggLawrence, 4th District; ErinNations, 6th District;and Barbara Sturgeon, 8th District.
Most commissioners said they received an enormous response from the community about the seal in emails, phone calls andpetitions some against the Confederate flag symbol on the seal and some in favor.
Adopted in 1968 in the era of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther KingJr., the Williamson County seal has drawnmountingcriticism from constituents.
Franklin resident Dustin Koctar, who launched a petition to change the seal,first criticized the presence of a Confederate flag on it at a community vigil in memory of George Floyd in Franklin last month.
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Theresolution, writtenby Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson's office, calls for the formation of a nine-member task force comprised of Blackcommunityand business leaders as well as representatives from various community organizations and the county historian.
The task forceis chargedwith discussingthe seal and submitting a recommendation to the county commission in September about whether to change it.
Williamson Inc., the county's chamber of commerce and county economic department, will chair the task force, including organizing meetings and collecting data. A representative from Williamson Inc. will also serve on the task force.
According to the resolution, the nine-member committee would consist of the following:
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Several commissioners proposed amendments, including how to direct the task force, whileothers wanted to bypass the task force altogether.
Commissioner Sean Aiello, 11th District,proposed an amendment that would appoint the county historianRick Warwick as chairman of the task force, instead of Williamson Inc. His proposalfailed.
Commissioner David Landrum, 10th District,proposed anamendment for the task forcetoonly study the upper left hand quadrant of the seal containing the Confederate flag, and leave the rest of the seal untouched. His amendment gained the most traction, but still failed11-12.
At one point, Commissioner Gregg Lawrence, 4th District, suggested deferring the discussion.
"Let's wait until things calm down in America so maybe we can be more reasonable," he said, also stating that the seal needs to change."I think it's going to be hard to get a consensus during this time on the seal."
Commissioner Dwight Bubba Jones, 1st District, later made an amendment to eliminate the entire county seal altogether.
"Let's just do away with the seal and remove the controversy," he said.
However, he later withdrew his amendment when Commissioner Chad Story, 4th District, proposed a separate amendmentcalling for theremovalthe Confederate flag on the seal instead of forming atask force gained momentum.
Story argued that he "feared" that the task force might alter other parts of the seal and thus compromise its full historical integrity.
"Let's remove the Confederate flag and take our resolution directly to the Tennessee Historical Commission," Story said.
Some commissioners who previously supported the task forcebegan to shift their perspective as Story presented his argument.
Commissioner Brian Beathard, 11th District, who initially sponsoredthe mayor's task force proposal, shifted his perspective tosupport instead Story's proposal.
"Some constituents have egregiously told me the commission doesn't have the gravitas to make this decision on our own," Beathard said. "Acommittee would have too much to tackle looking at whole seal, if the sensitive part isreally to remove the flag."
Commissioner Keith Hudson, 3rd District, the only Black member of the county commission, initiallysupported thetask force resolution but latervoiced his support ofStory's suggestion to removethe Confederate flag as well, while bypassing the task force.
Hudson also explained his view of the Confederate flag as a symbol.
Hesimply explained that for him and many other people of colorthe Confederate flag is "asymbol of hate."
"It's the same astheswastika for me," he said. "I tell myson to stay away. If it's displayed in a business,they are sending a message they don't want you as a patron."
He said the flag symbolizes different things for different people.
"Is it hate or is it heritage?You don't know so, son, stay away," Hudson said."I remember coming out of Woolworth's, and the Klan marching, and I saw the battle flag and that is mymemory."
Ultimately, the momentum for Story's amendment fizzled when he removed it from consideration.The commission then voted on the initial resolutionpresented by the mayorandfive commission sponsors Hudson, Morton, Webb, Beathard and Commissioner Betsy Hester, 2nd District.
Other commissioners voiced why they supportthe formation of the task force.
"I am proud to support this proposal, this is a much needed change," Chas Morton, 9th District,said.
"Everything should have a look to be modernized,"Paul Webb, 6th District said."Let's have the discussion."
"We need to discuss this to be an authentic county," said Beth Lothers, 5th District, said.
The county commission will review the recommendations from the task force at its regular monthly commission meeting in September.
Kerri Bartlett covers issues affecting children, families, education and government in Williamson County. She can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-308-8324 or @keb1414 on Twitter.
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Task force approved to study Confederate flag on Williamson County seal after hours of debate - Tennessean