New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has won the battle of St. Charles Avenue, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before four Confederate-era monuments are subtracted from the landscape of the city.
Supporters of the monuments have contended for months that the mayor has better things to do and the city has better ways to spend its money.
Responding to the second criticism, the mayor says he has raised $170,000 from an anonymous donor to fund the removal.
And this week, the mayor announced that he would funnel the money through the Foundation for Louisiana, so the donor can remain behind the scenes — shielded from state public records laws.
The money will pay to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle, Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Jefferson Davis Parkway, Gen. P.G.T Beauregard at the entrance to City Park, and a monument on Iberville Street honoring a rebellion against Louisiana’s biracial Reconstruction government.
We’ll leave it to history to decide whether the monuments honor a discredited ideology or are important historical artifacts.
But one thing we hope both sides can agree on is that implementing this change by skirting public disclosure laws is a bad idea. In helping Landrieu advance a declared priority of his administration, the anonymous donor, whatever other motivations might be involved, is doing a big political favor for the mayor. Constituents should know the identity of the donor for the same reason that campaign contributions are made public. Money influences public policy, and people should be able to see the players involved.
On its list of “core values and beliefs,” the Foundation for Louisiana says “transparency and accountability are cornerstones of integrity and institutional success.”
So friends of the Baton Rouge-based foundation, and its board members, will be at a loss to explain how helping a mayor keep an inconvenient secret embraces the group’s mission.
If the donor insists on remaining anonymous, the city should refuse the gift. For such a high-profile public project, residents should know where the dollars are coming from. That’s a key step in keeping government accountable.