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Denton County commissioners debate Confederate monument committee

Denton County commissioners are not ready to make a decision on whether to approve a committee to discuss the Confederate monument on the Square. 

After listening to nearly four hours of public comment about the monument, County Judge Mary Horn said commissioners still haven't decided how many committees they'd want to form, or how many residents would be appointed. They also haven't decided on a specific purpose for the committee. 

She did, however, emphasize that Willie Hudspeth, who has long pushed to remove or modify the monument, would be among the first appointees. 

The beginning of Tuesday's meeting was essentially treated as an open forum. Dozens of residents shared an open dialogue with commissioners about the possibility of a monument committee. The discussion sparked several tense moments in the courtroom. 

Horn said she specifically wants to create a committee to improve the language on the monument's adjacent plaque, which she called "woefully inadequate." Other commissioners will have input on the committee's purpose. 

Denton County Judge Mary Horn said she wants create a committee specifically to change the wording on the current plaque near the Confederate monument on the Square. Right now, commissioners are considering appointing a committee to determine the fate of the monument, but they haven't taken any action.DRC
Denton County Judge Mary Horn said she wants create a committee specifically to change the wording on the current plaque near the Confederate monument on the Square. Right now, commissioners are considering appointing a committee to determine the fate of the monument, but they haven't taken any action.
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"It's going to take some time, and I understand that, but [historical] accuracy is my goal," Horn said, adding that she's already enlisted the help of  University of North Texas history professor Randolph Campbell to serve as a committee adviser. 

The Denton County Confederate Soldier Memorial has been a point of contention for county residents for years. Some say it celebrates slavery and represents racism. Other believe removing the monument would be an attempt to erase history. Last month's violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, reignited similar conversations around the country. 

In the last month, Commissioners Court meetings have been filled with residents advocating for the monument's removal, while some have asked to keep it on the lawn.  And last week, Horn put the discussion of a possible monument committee on the meeting agenda. 

<p>Willie Hudspeth shows his emotion while speaking to Denton County commissioners about the Confederate monument on the south lawn of the Courthouse on the Square&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">during Tuesday's meeting.</span></p>DRC

Willie Hudspeth shows his emotion while speaking to Denton County commissioners about the Confederate monument on the south lawn of the Courthouse on the Square during Tuesday's meeting.

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Horn didn't give speakers a time limit when addressing that specific agenda item Tuesday. Commissioners sometimes interjected, asking speakers to focus their comments on the committee rather than peripheral issues. Some people spoke for more than 30 minutes. 

Hugh Coleman was the only commissioner not in attendance. He's on a scheduled trip to the annual County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas Conference in Corpus Christi. 

During the meeting, tensions rose when a group of residents presented what they called "The Citizens Report," an 18-page document that outlines numerous allegations against Horn and other commissioners. 

Denton resident Jessica Luther, who helped gather information for the report, said it was compiled through public information requests and newspaper articles.

Among the allegations, the document claims Horn lied about obtaining permit applications to restore fountains on the monument in 2002. The report claims she told Hudspeth, who asked to restore the drinking fountains on the structure at the time, that the project could not move forward, even though the Texas Historical Commission approved permits. 

The report signifies a broader distrust of Horn and county commissioners, Luther said.

"My point is, Horn has lied," she said after addressing commissioners. "Horn has denied lying to the public. She had a permit to restore the fountains with Willie's name on it, and she wrote a letter to him telling him that she didn't. That's a lie."

Horn said she "respectfully disagrees" with those claims. 

"I really do not believe that any laws were broken, and everything that we did or did not do was with open communication with the Texas Historical Commission," she said. 

In a rare move, Horn slammed her gavel as Luther spoke for more than 30 minutes about the allegations in the report. Horn told her "Stop!" as other commissioners requested she stay on the topic of the committee. 

"I think this the beginning of a long process," Commissioner Andy Eads said.  

As more speakers gave elaborate presentations centered on the report, some commissioners appeared frustrated. Ron Marchant emphasized that despite any allegations, commissioners were trying to move forward with a possible solution. 

"You keep referring to different violations, different miscommunications, everything," Marchant said to Cody Goodman, who was speaking at the podium at the time. "We're trying to go forward from now." 

Hudspeth and former Denton City Council candidate Paul Meltzer have been the only two names mentioned as possible committee members. 

The discussion will continue at the commissioners' next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3. 

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.