NEW ORLEANS - The price tag for the removal of four Confederate-era monuments exceeded $2.1 million, with just over $1 million coming from the city and the rest coming from private donors, city officials said today.
A flurry of extraordinary circumstances, including extensive legal wrangling, threats of physical violence, and pressing logistical demands, led to the extremely high price tag for a process that was originally intended to top out at $600,000.
City officials released a detailed public accounting of the expenditures this afternoon, a move which Deputy Mayor of External Affairs Ryan Berni called extremely unusual.
“It is very unusual, in fact unprecedented, for us to break out the regular hours and overtime hours that are used for an event,” Berni said. “We don’t do it for Mardi Gras...we don’t do it for any event, but because of the interest and for full public disclosure and the transparency that we’re trying to have in this process, we felt it was important to outline all of the costs, despite the fact that they are all going to be absorbed within the city’s existing operating budget.”
The city is responsible for $1,037,386.06 of the total tally, with the Foundation for Louisiana, a private umbrella organization that pooled donor money, responsible for $1,065,000, according to the city’s accounting.
“Those funds are coming out of the Chief Administrative Officer’s special projects account,” Berni said. “While there are some projects that will have some reduction, they are nothing critical or related to public safety.”
Initially, the city did not plan on having to develop and enact an extensive safety plan in order to prevent attacks and other acts of violence, Berni said.
“The city did have to bring in private Homeland Security contractors who did risk assessment, threat analysis, intelligence gathering, and that is being paid for out of public dollars,” he said. “That’s the cost of the extremists and some of the racist antics that really plagued this project over the last two years.
The city was ready to remove the statues as far back as 2015, but groups like the Monumental Task Committee stepped in and brought the issue to arbitration multiple times, and then groups from across the south moved in to issue death threats and use intimidation tactics in an effort to bog down the process.
“This is literally the cost of dealing with racial extremists. We had to spend some money on Homeland Security consulting from a part of the budget that otherwise would have gone to some other kind of consulting,” Berni said. “At the end of the day, we would have liked to not spend it ourselves. We would have liked to not have been in litigation for two years. This drug out because folks who were opposing the monument removal drug it out themselves.”