The statue of President McKinley.
So, remember two weeks ago, when the Arcata City Council voted 4-1 to take down the statue of President William McKinley? Well, things just got a bit more complicated.
Now it appears the statue’s situation might go to some sort of vote after all — one of the options staff had recommended in the first place — with the flicker of a do-over thrown into the mix.
Councilmember Susan Ornelas dropped her McKinley bombshell at the end of the council’s March 7 meeting — a time normally reserved for mundane reports on the pancake breakfasts or conferences that councilmembers had recently attended.
Noting the vast amount of feedback she and others on the council have received in recent weeks, Ornelas brought up the idea of having a multiple-choice vote on where to put the statue — with one of the options being the plaza center.
That, of course, is where the controversial bronze work has stood since 1906.
“We’ve made a decision that it should be moved from the plaza center, so where should it go? We haven’t come up with that and some people are very frustrated about that,” Ornelas said, noting that a vote — either during the November election or via a mail ballot — could strengthen the upcoming environmental review process, which should have a "no project alternative."
Seeming to simultaneously defend the vote to remove McKinley while also saying some residents felt “their right to be heard was taken,” Ornelas described how she’d spent the last month reading about Native American history while sipping coffee on Saturday mornings, along with digesting the “huge amount of information” the council received on local history, the statue and McKinley.
That, Ornelas said, led her on a "journey" culminating in her Feb. 21 vote to support taking McKinley down.
“My mind changed during that time but I realize that we didn’t necessarily bring everyone along with us in the town, and so when we made this decision, that seemed harsh to some people,” Ornelas said. “They couldn’t even believe we were ready to make a decision and, truly, I mean, if anyone was paying attention it was in the agenda. I mean, it was fairly clear but I have come to understand a lot of people did feel left out.”
Ornelas suggested perhaps there could be a “town effort” around the theme of “the late the 1800s, early 1900s, U.S. history, McKinley’s presidency, Native American history in Northern California” to help “bring people along.”
At the end of her somewhat circuitous narrative she asked and quickly received support from two councilmembers — Brett Watson and Michael Winkler, the sole dissenting vote on McKinley’s fate — to bring the concept back as a future item.
“I’m 100 percent interested in putting this on the agenda,” Watson said, “preferably on the next agenda, if the mayor sees fit.”
But not everyone was on board. “Just so you know, no,” Councilmember Paul Pitino replied emphatically, later emphasizing that he didn’t want to see his motion to take down the statue circumvented.
When Watson asked City Attorney Nancy Diamond if it would be appropriate to bring the item back as a motion to reconsider, she replied, “if you want you could ask for a motion to reconsider,” but she didn’t believe that was Ornelas’ intent (which Ornelas confirmed it was not).
“If we put this on another agenda and we have a discussion about it and, hypothetical situation, the vote changes, do we have to put that on another agenda?” Watson asked next.
“No, if the topic is such that you could revisit your earlier decision, you could take it up through a motion to reconsider and then you could reconsider that, and you could do it all within the topic if it’s worded to incorporate that,” Diamond said.
“Great,” he replied.
What the actual agenda item will look like is still unclear but a large turnout from both sides of the McKinley divide is likely to be on hand.
“The fun continues,” Mayor Sofia Pereira said as she wrapped up the discussion at this week’s meeting.