The Santa Fe City Council is set to decide Wednesday on a long-awaited process for addressing oversight of controversial monuments following the proposal’s endorsement Monday by the Public Works and Utilities Committee.
Two city councilors on the committee who have been critical of the proposal, JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Michael Garcia, abstained from the vote.
The Finance Committee will discuss the measure at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
The resolution stems from an initial proposal by Mayor Alan Webber that would have created a 21-member appointed committee known as CHART — the Culture, History, Arts, Reconciliation and Truth Committee — to recommend what should replace the recently destroyed Plaza obelisk and determine the future of other monuments and public art viewed by some residents as racist or culturally insensitive.
Last month, however, Webber and city councilors announced a significantly changed resolution that removed the board and replaced it with community discussions, one-on-one interviews with residents and questionnaires.
City Councilor Chris Rivera, the public works committee chairman, said Monday he was excited about the new cultural committee, which will provide an opportunity for the community — not just members of particular stakeholder groups — to be heard.
”It allows all individuals, whether you are part of a large group or you are just a member of this society, to make a comment, to tell your story about what you know about history ... how you feel about the Plaza, how you feel about monuments,” Rivera said in a virtual morning talk with the mayor. “Whatever topic you would like to discuss.”
Rivera was one of three councilors on the public works committee who voted in favor of endorsing the resolution.
During the morning news conference, Webber said the new format for the cultural committee, similar to a process created by the Albuquerque city government, would allow for more input from a larger swath of the community.
“Its intent is to create a process for community engagement,” Webber said. “For broad-scale, open-ended, deep community conversation and dialogue aimed at promoting understanding based on shared value. ...
”What this process does is create tables for everybody,” the mayor added.
Webber had spoken for months about creating a cultural commission to address monuments and public art — in particular the obelisk, known as the Soldiers’ Monument, that had stood as the Plaza’s centerpiece for 152 years before Native American protesters and their allies toppled it in October during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally.
The idea for the commission emerged ahead of a similar demonstration in June against the obelisk, which many people considered racist due to an inscription dedicating it to soldiers who died in battle with “savage Indians.”
Critics said Webber’s delay in forming the commission was largely to blame for the obelisk’s destruction.
According to the revised CHART resolution, the first round of community discussions on public art and monuments will center on personal identities and stories, followed by a session on core values and then a talk on solutions, recommendations and responses.
People who participate in all three meetings will be able to help make recommendations to the city.
Officials will hold one-on-one interviews with residents who aren’t able to participate in the community discussions or choose not to, the resolution says.
Vigil Coppler raised concerns during the committee meeting about whether the resolution would give the City Council enough authority to consider the removal of statues and monuments.
Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth said she felt the resolution made clear the council would be responsible for any decisions regarding the cultural committee’s recommendations.
Garcia posed multiple questions about the committee, including whether there was a possibility for thousands of people to participate in what the resolution calls a “community solutions table” — which will develop the recommendations.
He asked whether the council could serve in that role instead.
The council’s role is to provide a space for the community to be heard, Councilor Signe Lindell said, adding, “In this process, I hope that people will approach this with an open mind and an open heart.”
Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta said he didn’t believe the resolution was perfect but said he had faith in the community.