Almost exactly one year after a violent protest over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia and ignited a national reckoning over Confederate memorials, Austin City Council voted Thursday to not provide fee waivers to any Veterans Day parades or events that include Confederate groups.
Earlier this week Mayor Steve Adler emphasized the resolution does not specifically target Confederate groups. Rather, it applies to any group representing veterans who did not fight for the United States Armed Forces, which the resolution defines as the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and all reserve components.
However, Adler said if the Austin Veterans Day Parade chose to include Confederate groups in this year’s event, he would not want event organizers to come forward, as they normally do, for a taxpayer-funded waiver for event fees.
The fees are related to providing police, emergency medical services, trash pick-up, street closures and other city services. The fee waiver for last year’s Austin Veterans Day Parade eclipsed $20,000 according to the city.
“My hope is that we can have a parade that is singularly focused on honoring those that have served in the United States Armed Forces and to that end this resolution would do that.” Adler said.
The move comes just after the city's equity office recommended the city rename seven streets due to their ties to the Confederacy. Austin already renamed two of its streets for the same reason earlier this year.
Last year, Adler made headlines when he chose to boycott the Austin Veterans Day Parade for the first time in his mayorship because the parade included groups representing the Confederacy. Although the parade committee voted to ban the Confederate flag, Adler said community members expressed “significant emotion” over their discomfort with memorials to the Confederacy following the violent protest three months earlier in Charlottesville, Virginia.
District 1 Council Member Ora Houston and District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair voted against the measure, saying it was unconstitutional to attempt to silence or censor certain groups.
Houston said City Council was treading a fine line. Troxclair said the city should encourage everyone to talk about their beliefs. Censoring certain beliefs, Troxclair said, would set a “scary precedent.”
Pete Salazar, vice chair of the city’s commission on veterans’ affairs, said the issue was using taxpayer money to support the inclusion of such groups.
“It’s a constitutional right to march for symbols, but the city doesn’t have to subsidize that freedom and that’s where most people in this discussion fall,” Salazar said.
Jim Darwin, chairman of the volunteer parade committee and representatives from Sons of Confederate Veterans and Descendants of Confederate Veterans did not respond to multiple requests for comments. It remains unknown whether Confederate groups will march in this year’s parade.