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New process created to review offensive landmarks and street names in Spokane, including Monaghan statue

By Emry Dinman, The Spokesman-Review
Published: January 30, 2024, 8:37am

SPOKANE — Spokane now has a process to review potentially offensive landmarks and street names located on city property, spurred by concerns over the downtown statue of Ensign John Monaghan.

The ordinance approved Monday is largely identical to one approved and subsequently vetoed last July by former Mayor Nadine Woodward, who argued that the City Council had empowered the wrong citizen commission to oversee the process of review.

While the vast majority of Woodward’s vetoes were overridden, the timing of the July veto hamstrung the council’s ability to do so at the time. The ordinance originally passed 5-2, and five votes would have been necessary to override a veto.

However, in the time between the vote and Woodward’s veto, one member in support, former City Council President Breean Beggs, left the council for an appointment to the Spokane County Superior Court. His replacement was due for appointment by Aug. 28; the deadline for a veto override was Aug. 24.

At the time, the City Council had no established process to reintroduce a vetoed item if the veto was not overridden. When the council modified its rules at the beginning of the year, it created rules to allow for a previously vetoed item to be brought up again as originally written.

The ordinance, which passed Monday 5-2, broadly allows residents to request reconsideration of imagery or place names deemed offensive.

The Spokane Human Rights Commission will receive requests for removal and reconsideration, and will make any initial determination if a landmark or place name was “likely to cause mental pain, suffering or disrespect in a reasonable person … .” If so, the commission will forward the request to the Office of Civil Rights, Equity and Inclusion, which will perform additional review in consultation with city of Spokane attorneys , other city organizations and relevant stakeholders.

The office would then present its findings back to the commission, which will make a final recommendation to the City Council, the Park Board or the Library Board, depending on the location of the monument or street name deemed offensive. One of those three bodies would have final say in whether to remove, rename, relocate or otherwise take action on the matter.

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This ordinance is the latest chapter in a more than two-year effort that began after the city’s Pacific Islander community requested that the Human Rights Commission consider removal of the downtown statue of Monaghan, who was from Spokane.

Monaghan was a U.S. Navy ensign killed near Apia, Samoa, during a war among colonizing and native factions in 1899 to control territory on the islands. The statue, which the city does not own but is located on city property, was commissioned by residents in 1906.

One plaque on the statue describes the Samoans who killed Monaghan as “savage foes,” while another shows those Samoans as wielding primitive weapons, which activists have called inaccurate and racist. The Spokane Council of the Navy League of the United States has argued that aspects of the memorial should be updated, but the statue should remain because Monaghan acted heroically to protect a fellow sailor in battle.

Several who testified in support of Monday’s ordinance argued that the Monaghan statue was not just offensive because of how it depicted and referred to Samoans with its plaques, but because the statue itself effectively honored the colonization of Pacific islands.

When the Human Rights Commission previously reviewed requests to remove the statue, it was determined that the city had no formal process to address such concerns, commission Chair Anwar Peace said in an August interview when the ordinance was first being considered. The City Council had asked the Human Rights Commission to develop such a process, an effort Peace led.

Woodward, in her veto letter, had said the Historic Landmarks Commission should be in charge of reviewing concerns from residents, not the Human Rights Commission.

But the Landmarks Commission indicated it was not the proper organization to review such requests, as it can only review proposals to modify, move or demolish property on the historic register. The Monaghan statue is not on that register.

Woodward argued in her veto, if the Landmarks Commission is not designed to process such requests, the City Council should modify its duties, rather than hand the responsibility to the Human Rights Commission.

A majority on the City Council disagreed, though Councilmen Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart voted against the Monday ordinance, as they did in August. Bingle argued the city needed to be able to review potentially offensive monuments, but believed the mechanics laid out in the resolution could be improved.

Cathcart did not articulate his opposition Monday night, but previously argued that creating a process to remove statues is the first step on a path that ends in banning books.

Newly sworn-in Councilwoman Lili Navarette, who is a Mexican immigrant, noted that she was born in a colonized country with architecture that honored its colonizers, and said she supported the removal of any monument that “reminds us of being oppressed and killed.”

“Someone said tonight: we can’t change history, but we can learn from it so we don’t repeat it,” she said.

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